Civil-partnership ban seen as challenge

The Church Times in an article on Friday 9th November outlined the response of many - including Inclusive Church - to the new regulations on civil partnerships in religious buildings.

"THE possibility of getting church halls approved for the registering of civil partnerships is being explored after new regulations on civil partner­ships in places of worship came into force on Monday. The Church of England nationally is not allowing the use of churches.

A note from the General Synod’s secretary-general, William Fittall, sent to Synod members last Friday, said that under the new rules “no Church of England religious premises may become ‘approved premises’ for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to that effect.”

An accompanying Legal Office memorandum seeks to allay fears of litigation under the Equality Act if churches refuse to hold the cere­mon­ies. It says that the “clear view” of the Legal Office and government lawyers is that churches would not be guilty of illegal discrimination.

“A church which provides couples with the opportunity to marry (but not to register civil partner-ships) is ‘con­cerned with’ the pro­vision of mar­riage only, it is simply not ‘concerned with’ the provision of facilities to register civil partner­ships.”

This area would need to be re­visited if same-sex marriage becomes law in the future, but currently, just as “a gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes . . . a church that supplies a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for reg­iste­ring civil partnerships”.

Several churches are believed to be investigating the registration of halls as approved premises.

The Revd Bob Callaghan, national co-ordinator of Inclusive Church, said that it was “definitely something” being considered. About 50 member churches would be willing to host civil partnerships in church if the law allowed it.

He said that exploring the option of church halls was a matter of principle, born of “the frustration and the sig­nals coming from bishops that the Church of England is not welcoming to gay people, and is saying ‘We don’t want you’”.

Click here to go to the full article in the Church Times