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.””
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.)