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New law on civil partnerships in churches comes into effect

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A new law came into effect yesterday (5 December) which allows homosexual civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises in England and Wales for the first time.

The new scheme is intended to be voluntary, although critics of the move believe that what is being portrayed as optional for churches will quickly become an expectation and then a duty.

The Church of England has produced a legal paper suggesting that churches will not be at risk of litigation if they refuse to register civil partnerships on their premises.

However, two separate QC’s have given contrary advice, and believe that churches will be at risk of litigation if they refuse to provide civil partnerships.

In addition, Tory Peer Baroness O’Cathain is intending to propose a motion in the House of Lords next week, arguing that the new law is confusing and could lead to churches facing litigation if they refuse to host civil partnerships. If the Lords pass her proposal, then the provision introducing the new law could be annulled.

Lawyer Neil Addison, who comments on religious liberty issues, said:

"The real danger is the possibility of churches being sued under the Equality Act for refusing to host civil partnerships. But what I think is much more likely is that local authorities will refuse to register churches for marriage unless the churches are willing to host civil partnerships."

Before the new law came into effect, the Government’s Equality Office held a consultation on the introduction of civil partnerships and subsequently reported that "the vast majority" of respondents "opposed the principle of civil partnerships being registered on religious premises". Yet despite this, the Government “remains committed to taking this important step for ... LGB rights.”

Recently, Conservative MP Mike Weatherley wrote to David Cameron and told him that Christian churches must be banned from performing any marriages at all if they refused to hold civil partnerships ceremonies for homosexuals on their premises.

Homosexual Marriage

In contrast to its comments on the introduction of civil partnerships, the Church of England report did imply that the Government’s plan to introduce full homosexual marriage in churches could leave the church exposed under equality legislation.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised in October to introduce full homosexual marriage by 2015, ending the legal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The Church of England report implies that, if that happens, then equality laws may apply, which would open the Church of England to legal action if it did not provide for homosexual marriage on its properties.

‘If Parliament were in due course to legislate for same-sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister, we would of course be in new territory,’ it said.

If homosexual marriage is legislated for, and if churches were not protected from being sued if they refused to marry homosexuals, then the vast majority of pastors and clergy may then be forced to choose between their conscience and their jobs, triggering the biggest threat to religious liberty in generations.

Comment

Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, said:

“This is all part of a wider, radical social and political agenda to re-define marriage and force this re-definition on everybody, whether they want it or not. Such a re-definition will affect the whole of society profoundly, and has severe repercussions for the family.

 “With the Prime Minister backing plans to introduce full homosexual marriage soon, the church at large needs to wake up very fast, or else church leaders who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman may well lose their liberty to continue acting according to that belief, and may be forced in the future to resign their positions or defy the law.” 

Votes

The Prime Minister’s plans to introduce homosexual marriage could cost him many votes. A recent poll by ComRes found that a massive 83% of church-going Christians in the UK are opposed to plans by the Conservative Party to legalise homosexual marriage, and 57% of all respondents are ‘less likely to vote’ for the party because of this move.

Links

Daily Mail

Christian Concern: Sexual Orientation

 

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