Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Civil Partnerships In Church

The House of Lords is to consider an amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 which is the Act that permits the formation and registration of same-sex partnerships. Certain sections of the Act (such as s2(5) or s6(1)(b) prevent these Civil Partnerships taking place in Religious premises or with a religious service. The Unitarian Church, the Quakers and Liberal Judaism have all apparently asked for these restrictions to be removed in order that they can preform religious same-sex ceremonies which they have no religious objections to.

Now in principle I cannot disagree with this proposal because clearly if a particular religion has no problems with same-sex relationships then the law should not prevent these religions holding such ceremonies, because allowing something does not normally make it compulsory.

The problem arises from the other parts of the Equality Bill or from the existing Sexual Orientation Regulations. If the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 is amended as Lord Ali proposes then Religious premises will have to justify why they are not hosting Civil Partnerships and will be liable to be sued for "sexual orientation" discrimination. Similarly Local Authorities could refuse to allow churches to be registered for the celebration of marriage unless they also register for Civil Partnerships. In effect therefore Churches and Synagogues could find themselves being prevented from performing the Marriages they have performed for centuries merely because they do not want to perform the Civil Partnership ceremonies which have existed for less than a decade

Lord Alli's amendment needs to include a clause which makes it clear that no Church, Synagogue or Mosque, no Priest, Rabbi or Imam would be obliged to participate in a Civil Partnership. Without such a clause Religious Organisations would eventually find themselves forced to perform Civil Partnerships rather than merely permitted to do so.

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