Tuesday 23 February 2010

Blessed partnerships

The Times reports on growing pressure for the right of those religious congregations to register, celebrate and bless civil partnerships if they wish to do so. Senior current and former Anglican Bishops are among those backing Lord Alli's amendment to the Equality Bill, making the case in a letter to The Times.

Religious correspondent Ruth Gledhill has more on her religious affairs blog: one of the best examples of how specialist correspondents can offer in-depth online coverage beyond what national newspapers put in the paper. As Gledhill notes, Iain McLean, at OurKingdom and elsewhere, and Stuart White for Next Left (both among today's letter writers) have argued eloquently that the objection to the amendment makes a nonsense of the religious freedom argument with which the Church is defending the right not to be coerced into celebrating civil partnerships.

The paper's leader writers are convinced by the argument, offer a thundering objection to the 'feeble' slippery slope objection, writing that:

In a letter to The Times today, a distinguished group of mostly Anglican clergy correctly point out that “straight couples have the choice between civil marriage and religious marriage. Gay couples are denied a similar choice”. That clearly discriminates against homosexuals who are also believers, and three faith communities — Liberal Judaism, the Quakers and the Unitarians — now wish to register civil partnerships on their premises. A legal amendment permitting them to do so is expected to be debated in the House of Lords next month.

The Church of England has so far resisted change, arguing that if some religious groups are allowed to hold civil partnerships then the pressure on the C of E to follow suit will become intolerable. It is a feeble argument. No one is arguing that any church should be forced to conduct a civil partnership. But willing churches should not be precluded from doing so.

Whether or not the C of E should itself be a willing church in this respect is a further question, which is clearly contested within the Church. Those that think it should not have no coherent case for denying the religious liberty of other faith groups who disagree.

The Times argues that for the Church of England to maintain its claim to special status as “a part of our liberties, a part of our national character”, it should recognise that "our liberties today should include the right of homosexuals to register the most important promise of their lives in a church".

Newington Green Unitarian Chapel is holding a Marriage Equality Day conference on Saturday.

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