CoE clergy warned against holding civil union ceremonies

The government has set a date for opening the churches in England to civil unions (effectively same-sex blessings), but the Church of England has told the clergy that they may not participate.

The change in the existing law goes into effect on December 5th and removes the ban on performing civil union ceremonies in houses of worship. The ban represented an initial compromise to ensure passage of the civil union legislation in parliament.

But the Church of England is not going along

"A spokesman said: "We will study the draft regulations as a matter of urgency to check they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in.

"If ministers have delivered what they said they would in terms of genuine religious freedom, we would have no reason to oppose the regulations. The House of Bishops' statement of July 2005 made it clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships and that remains the position. The Church of England has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in its churches.""

More here.

According to one source that has contacted the Café, there's a real fear on the part of the leadership of the Church of England that once the law allows for the option of civil unions in places of worship, some CoE clergy will go ahead and perform them (and entirely legal action at that point) and the result will be a very complicated row between the Church and the State.

(There's an overview of the Church of England's stance on civil unions posted here.)

Comments (10)

I always had a feeling that the secular world would move forward with this and drag the churches kicking and screaming into this more enlightened view of human rights. What's wrong with that picture?

Sounds like "effectively" same-sex weddings to me. Sort of ironic that the CoE has a big splashy - have your wedding in a CoE church welcome mat - on their web site.

"Congratulations! You're welcome to marry in church whatever your beliefs, whether or not you are christened and whether or not you regularly go to church. And, marrying in church has never been easier - there are more churches to choose from then ever before. "

No mention that if your partner is the same sex as you are - the door will be shut.

Absolutely right, Ann. According to the website, the C of E basically provides "wedding chapels" in their churches now -- no Christian commitment necessary. Compare that to what The Episcopal Church requires (now in some places and soon across the Church) for same sex couples desiring God's blessing on their unions. Sheer hypocrisy on the part of our "mother church."

Bishop Chris: the "no Christian commitment necessary" for weddings is not new, it has been the case in the CofE for many many decades, and is embedded into civil law, currently in the Marriage Act 1949. You may not like it but it is not new.

Ann Fontaine: although both the UK and Scottish governments have announced a consultation on changing the civil law on marriage, there has been no change yet in the UK, and therefore there is nothing peculiar or hypocritical about the CofE (or any other) website assuming that marriage means one man and one woman.

The more recent Civil Partnership Act 2004 provided an alternative route for same-sex couples to form unions, without disturbing the marriage legislation. The CofE has been pretty negative about this too, as witness the latest press statement in response to the latest change which will, from early 2012 if Parliament approves, permit such partnerships to be "registered" (that's the technical term used) on religious premises, an option previously excluded by the civil law.

Be critical of the CofE for its stance on civil partnerships all you want (as I am) but let's not confuse this with its stance on marriages.

A typical result from a church with no diversity in it's leadership, in a decidedly top-down management system. Due to work, my partner and I live in England in the summers and go to the local cathedral. We have been graciously welcomed there. The disconnect between their laity, and rank and file clergy (as far as I can tell) is huge. These hypocritical rulings are coming from geezers from an authoritarian generation and culture that is irrelevant in the 21st Century.

Having said that, I must note that TEC USA is not exacting on the vanguard of offering the Sacrament of Marriage to it's LGBT members. We got into this separate and unequal situation with the blessings. Better than nothing, but not full inclusion. I wonder how we can be a soul nurturing church for 20 somethings who likely have a different perspective on the bigotry?

Simon - the problem is that most equate the two -- and call it all marriage, a wedding, getting married. The church (TEC and CoE) can flub around all they want but the tide has turned.

Nick Knisely
A CofE (or any other kind oof) clergyperson will only be able to officiate at a civil partnership, if he or she has been designated a "civil partnership registrar" by a particular local authority. The government has decided that there should be no change to the present arrangement whereby it is entirely a local responsibility to decide who to designate. The only change proposed is to remove the previous absolute prohibition on clergypersons being registrars (but for civil partnerships only,not for civil marriages.)

This conversation will get even more interesting if Prime Minister David Cameron succeeds in enacting civil marriage equality for same-sex couples, as he recently declared to be his goal at the Conservative Party conference.

I am quite sympathetic to the C of E hierarchy on this point. Parliament should not be deciding a question that touches on doctrine. I'm certainly in agreement with civil equality and would like the Church to surpass what is required under law, but I don't think something imposed in this way will help the C of E move forward as a whole. I realize that this is the kind of dilemma one has with an established Church.

I am quite sympathetic to the C of E hierarchy on this point. Parliament should not be deciding a question that touches on doctrine. I'm certainly in agreement with civil equality and would like the Church to surpass what is required under law, but I don't think something imposed in this way will help the C of E move forward as a whole. I realize that this is the kind of dilemma one has with an established Church.

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