Controversial proposals which could pave the way for same-sex couples to register their civil partnerships in churches for the first time are set to be unveiled by the Government tomorrow.
Civil partnerships, which are not marriages, are currently restricted to register offices and secular venues such as hotels and stately homes.
But equalities minister Lynne Featherstone’s proposals would allow, though not compel, churches, mosques and synagogues in England and Wales to perform civil partnership registrations.
In response a number of evangelical Christian organisations, including The Christian Institute, have released a joint statement reiterating their “long-held” opposition to the controversial proposal.
The statement began by making clear this is a separate issue from that of same-sex marriage, where homosexual couples receive the same certificate as married people.
It went on to note that a small number of religious groups already allow their clergy to bless civil partnerships, but added that these groups are also keen to be able to register the controversial unions.
The statement said: “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.”
The groups also warned that changing the law to allow civil partnerships in churches would breach previous assurances made to Parliament about the nature of the same-sex partnerships.
The statement said: “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.”
The evangelical bodies also warned that any new legislation must protect churches who disagree with the same-sex unions from litigation.
The Government has previously suggested an ‘opt-in’ scheme for religious bodies that want to register civil partnerships, which it says will protect churches.
The evangelical groups statement concluded: “When it comes to equality legislation, permission often turns rapidly into coercion.
“In a country where faith-based adoption agencies have been forced to close or cut their religious ties by equality law, where Christian marriage registrars can be dismissed for their religious views on marriage and where Christian B & B owners are forced to pay compensation to same-sex couples, Christians will need a great deal of reassurance that the Government is not about to do something that will make their situation even worse.”
The joint statement, entitled Homosexual marriage and the registration of civil partnerships in churches, was signed by five evangelical Christian organisations.
These were Affinity, The Christian Institute, Christian Concern, Reform and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
The proposals would implement an amendment to the Equality Act by Labour peer Lord Alli last year.