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25
Mar

Further bill amendments to calm clergy

gaymarriageAs reported in the new issue of Out In The City (April 2010), the Equality Bill which has was passed through the House Of Lords last month included an amendment – tabled by Lord Alli – which allows civil partnerships to be held on religious premises. However, the amendment has caused some confusion and concern amongst religious groups – some of whom have falsely interpreted it as meaning that they will be forced to conduct civil partnerships against their wishes.

Although some religious groups – such as the Quakers – are keen to offer civil ceremonies, many others are not, but the amendment does not compel any faith group to host such ceremonies if that group chooses not to do so.

Despite this, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, spoke out against the amendment in a letter to The Times on Wednesday 24 March. He suggested that ministers could face claims of discrimination if they fail to conduct the ceremonies, and that the plans were, “Yet another example of creeping legislation that is often hasty, ill conceived and opportunistically tacked on to existing Bills without a proper chance for scrutiny.”

“How long will it be before church ministers are threatened with legal proceedings if they perform marriages between a man and a woman, but not civil partnerships?”

However, in an effort to re-assure clergy that this is not the case, during the bill’s third reading in the Lords on the evening of Wednesday 24 March, further amendments were added to make it clear that faith groups are free to choose whether to hold civil partnerships or not.

“I very much hope that these amendments will give comfort to faith communities which have suggested that they will soon be forced to perform civil partnerships against their will,” said Lord Alli. “These amendments make crystal clear that this change in the law is entirely permissive in its approach.”

The new amendments have provoked criticism from some groups who now think that the government has gone too far in its efforts to appease the religious lobby.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said, “The government bowed to pressure from the Anglican and Catholic hierarchy to give them legal backing to block liberal parishes from hosting civil partnerships… Without the amendment, the blessing of civil partnerships in churches could have become the norm, despite Episcopal disapproval.”

The bill passed its third reading and is likely to become law before the General Election, although changes will have to be made to the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 before civil partnership ceremonies can take place in venues of worship. Currently, the 2004 bill states that such partnerships can only take place in approved, non-religious premises.

Posted: 25 March 2010

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