February 14, 2011
Religious gay partnerships to be legalised
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone is expected to announce a move to legalise civil partnerships in religious venues during the next few days. The change will be a step towards marriage equality, but stops short of full gay marriage rights.
The government’s move follows an amendment to the Equality Act by Labour peer Lord Alli last year. This amendment requires a ruling from ministers in order to be implemented.
A spokesperson for the Equality Office said: “The government is currently considering what the next stage should be for civil partnerships, including how some religious organisations can allow same-sex couples the opportunity to register their relationship in a religious setting if they wish to do so. Ministers have met a range of people and organisations to hear their views on this issue. An announcement will be made in due course”.
Gay couples are currently unable to enter into a civil partnership within religious buildings such as churches and mosques. The law also bans the use of religious readings during partnership ceremonies. The new proposals are reported to involve the scrapping of these restrictions, but will not force religious groups to oversee civil partnerships.
The Church of England and Catholic Church have announced that they will not allow any of their churches to be used for such ceremonies. However, a number of Anglican clergy already carry out blessings for gay couples.
The proposals will be welcomed by a number of religious organisations, including the Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews and the Metropolitan Community Church, as well as LGBT rights groups. LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says that: “the current law is denying religious bodies the right to treat gay couples equally. It is forcing them to discriminate, even when many of them do not want to.”
Tatchell supports the proposed changes, but warns that they do not go far enough. “The next logical step is to end the ban on gay civil marriages. I urge the government to bring forward legislation to ensure marriage equality. Gay civil partnerships are not good enough. They are not equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law.”
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