The coalition Government has today launched a consultation on its controversial plans to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches for the first time.
The separate issue of whether to fundamentally alter the definition of marriage to allow full same-sex marriage is not included in the consultation document. However, the Government recently promised to “formally look” at the issue.
Currently homosexual civil partnerships can only be held in register offices and secular venues such as hotels and stately homes.
But the Government is planning to use the Equality Act 2010 to allow churches, mosques and synagogues in England and Wales to register the controversial unions.
The consultation document makes it clear that faith groups will not be obliged to register civil partnerships, but clergy have previously expressed concern at the potential for future litigation.
The consultation says: “We propose to operate an ‘opt-in’ system for those faith groups that wish to host civil partnership registrations on their premises.”
The Government document is entitled Civil partnerships on religious premises: a consultation. The consultation is due to close on 23 June.
The Government’s proposal to allow civil partnerships to be registered in churches has been criticised by senior Tory Edward Leigh.
He said: “When Civil Partnerships were brought in we were assured that they were not marriage.
“This pledge has now been broken. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman making a sincere attempt to stay together for life with a view to raising children.
“Civil Partnerships, by definition, cannot be this. The whole point of banning Civil Partnerships in a place of worship was to make clear that they were not marriages. This distinction will now be lost.”
Last month a number of evangelical Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute, warned against the Government’s proposal.
In a statement they said: “We reiterate our long-held opposition to allowing civil partnerships to be registered in churches. It is a breach of undertakings made by Government ministers during debates on the Civil Partnership Bill.
“Parliament was persuaded to pass that Bill, in part, because it was made clear that civil partnership was a civil rather than a religious institution and would not take place in religious premises.
“However, there are a small number of religious groups who are not content with being able to carry out civil partnership blessing ceremonies, as they currently do, but who want the legal registration itself to take place in their premises.
“In response to the demands of these groups, the Government is embarking on a course of action that is bringing it into conflict with thousands of evangelical churches and the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.”