Lord Alli’s Amendment on Civil Partnerships in Religious Buildings
This is the text of the new amendment to be moved by Lord Alli. Having been tied up for the past 48 hours, I’ll leave comment until tomorrow.
Before Clause 201
BARONESS CAMPBELL OF SURBITON
53* Insert the following new Clauseâ€”
Civil partnerships on religious premises
(1) The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 6(1)(b) and section 6(2).
(3) In section 6A, after subsection (2), insertâ€”
“( ) Regulations under this section may provide that premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships may differ from those premises approved for the registration of civil marriages.”
(4) In section 6A, after subsection (3), insertâ€”
“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.””
For reference, section 6 of the CPA 2004 reads
Place of registration
(1) The place at which two people may register as civil partners of each otherâ€”
(a) must be in England or Wales,
(b)must not be in religious premises, and
(c) must be specified in the notices, or notice, of proposed civil partnership required by this Chapter.
(2) â€œReligious premisesâ€ means premises whichâ€”
(a) are used solely or mainly for religious purposes, or
(b) have been so used and have not subsequently been used solely or mainly for other purposes.
(3) In the case of registration under the standard procedure (including that procedure modified as mentioned in section (5), the placeâ€”
(a) must be one which is open to any person wishing to attend the registration, and
(b) before being specified in a notice of proposed civil partnership, must be agreed with the registration authority in whose area that place is located.
(4) If the place specified in a notice is not so agreed, the notice is void.
(5) A registration authority may provide a place in its area for the registration of civil partnerships.
Update –Very clearly, Lord Alli’s amendment doesn’t prevent a Church of England incumbent from registering his/her church as place of registration for Civil Partnerships. Indeed, it’s hard to see how with the current wording Bishops and Archdeacons could do anything about it (and that I think is the intention of the new wording). This raises key issues for the Church of England because if churches are able to register to be places where Civil Partnerships can be registered, we will begin the back door process of changing our doctrine of marriage.
Andrew Goddard has some good things to say about this over at Fulcrum.
In conclusion, were the state to be preventing a religious body from exercising its freedom of religion it would indeed be quite wrong for the established church to support such restrictionssim ply on the grounds that it did not itself wish to exercise such a freedom. That is not, however, the situation created by the Civil Partnership Act. The current legislation does not place any such limit on religious freedom. Quakers, Unitarians, liberal Jews, any other religious group, is at liberty to celebrate the formation of civil partnerships and other patterns of same-sex union within their own communities in whatever way they determine according to the laws of their religious body. The state does not claim any right to interfere in or to prevent such religious ceremonies.
No religious body has a right for its clergy to be recognised as acting as a registrar on behalf of the state or for its premises to be used for such registration – registration of births, for example, is not franchised out in order that it can be completed on religious premises by a religious minister at a service of infant baptism or thanksgiving for the birth of a child rather than by a civil registrar! Saying that such registration cannot take place in a religious ceremony is therefore not a denial of anyone’s rights.As noted above, in many European countries, there is universal civil registration of marriage and this is not held to be an infringement of religious freedom. Furthermore, in contrast to marriage law prior to 1836, it is not as if those with religious commitments who wish to enter a civil partnership are required to participate in a ceremony to which (as agnostics, atheists or non-Anglicans) they may have conscientious objections – they simply have to sign a document in the presence of a registrar and witnesses.
As some have begun to argue, it may well be time for a more wholesale review of the law in relation to marriage, including now its relationship to civil partnerships. The proposed amendment by Lord Alli is, however, not the way to proceed. The rushed, piece-meal and agenda-driven nature of his changes to the Civil Partnership Act create many more problems and confusions than they resolve and show a lack of awareness of the history and contemporary complexity of the law in relation to civil marriage, religious marriage and civil partnerships. Sadly, given the weaknesses in the arguments advanced, and the known views of many of the signatories of the letter to The Times, it is perhaps not unduly cynical to see the sudden strong lobbying of support for Lord Alli’s amendment as something of a Trojan horse. Under the flawed but powerful rhetoric of â€œreligious freedom” and â€œnon-discrimination”, the amendment will have two consequences. Removing the restriction of registering civil partnerships to a civil ceremony will further undermine the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage. It will also make life increasingly difficult for those people and communities of faith who in conscience object to the establishment of ‘gay marriage’and who are given no protection under the proposed amendments from charges of being discriminatory if they only offer marriages but not civil partnerships.
Finally, we live in an age in which many are seeking to create a clearer distinction between secular and religious authorities and to limit the role of distinctive faith perspectives in the public square. It is, therefore, an interesting paradox that in a situation where religious bodies are generally acting as a powerful counter-cultural witness by refusing to accept civil partnerships as equivalent to marriage, there are those, both within and outside the church, who are eager to increase the public state-sponsored role of religion when that undermines this stance, increases the influence of a secular agenda for cultural change and heightens tensions and divisions within religious communities as they seek the mind of God on how to respond to same-sex unions in our society.