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Same-sex civil partnerships & marriages in the UK

2012-MAR: Government starts
a consultation with the public.
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This is a continuation from a previous essay

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In this web site, the term "SSM" means "same-sex marriage,
We prefer this term to "gay marriage" because it is more inclusive.
Most loving committed same-sex couples consist of two lesbians or two gays.
However, a minority consist of a gay or lesbian plus a bisexual, or even two bisexuals.

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2012-MAR-15: Government starts consultation on same-sex marriage for England and Wales:

The Home Office announced that a consultation with adults in England and Wales on "equal civi marriage" has begun. It is being organized by the Government Equalities Office.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said:

"I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender. Today is a hugely important step as we consider how to lift the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples. This is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms. Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone."

Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of the gay-equality group Stonewall said:

"We’re delighted that this consultation is finally taking place. As Stonewall’s draft Marriage Bill shows, the steps necessary to extend the legal form of marriage to same-sex couples needn’t take much parliamentary time. We look forward to this important measure being included in the Queen’s Speech on May 9 and being enacted as soon as possible."

The government's proposals include:

  • Loving, committed same sex couples in England or Wales would be able to marry in civil ceremonies.
  • They would be able to convert their civil partnerships to marriages if they wish.
  • Civil partnerships would continue to be available for same-sex couples; they would be able to register their partnership on church properties.
  • The government would continue to severely restrict religious freedom of religious groups by not allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies in churches, synagogues, etc.
  • The government would further restrict religious freedom of religious groups by prohibiting any religious elements when civil partnerships were registered on their property.
  • Transsexuals could apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate and thereby change their gender registration while maintaining their existing marriage status.
  • Opposite-sex couples would continue to be excluded from civil partnerships.
  • Transsexuals in a civil partnership would have to terminate their partnership if they apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate since opposite-sex partnerships are not allowed. 1

The consultation started on 2012-MAR-15 and will continue until JUN-14. 2

Their intended audience is:

  • "Members of the public - particularly those currently in a marriage or civil partnership or those wishing to legally register their relationship in future
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisations
  • Religious organisations
  • Local authorities, including registrars who are responsible for conducting civil marriage ceremonies
  • Organisations with an interest in families and relationships
  • Comments from all other interested parties are also welcome.

The Government only plans to partly eliminate biases against same-sex couples at this time. They propose to change the laws so that same-sex couples can marry in a civil ceremony; however they would not be eligible to marry in a religious ceremony. This conflicts with the religious freedom of same-sex couples to seek a religious marriage and with the religious freedom of faith groups to marry same-sex couples.

The Home Office comments on their consultation form:

"The government is committed to building a fairer society and ensuring fair treatment and equal opportunities for all, including people of all religions.  As we are only seeking to lift the ban on same-sex couples getting married through a civil ceremony, we would ensure that any subsequent legislation on equal civil marriage is clear that marriages conducted according to religious rites and on religious premises could not be between a same-sex couple. This would mean that no religious organisation, premises, or leader would face a successful legal challenge for failing to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple, whether or not the religious organisation, premises or leader involved performs marriages for opposite-sex couples. Any changes to the legislation as a result of this consultation will not, legally, enable same-sex couples to have a marriage through a religious ceremony and on religious premises.

It would not legally be possible for a minister of religion to marry a same-sex couple on religious premises and through a religious ceremony. The Church of England  have a duty to marry opposite-sex couples in their premises (if the couple meet certain requirements), but there would be no duty on Church of England ministers to marry same-sex couples. Their duty would remain unchanged and relate only to opposite-sex couples within the relevant parish.

We are also aware that the doctrines of many faiths hold the view that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and this belief is contained within the teachings of their faith. We are clear that no one should face successful legal action for hate speech or discrimination if they preach their belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman." 1

In North America, same-sex couples can marry in either a religious or a civil marriage ceremony. Pastors, priests and ministers may decline to marry any couple for any reason that the clergyperson finds reasonable. Clergy have declined to marry couples because of their racial makeup, religious makeup, gender makeup, perceived immaturity, etc. We are unaware of any clergyperson who as been sued for refusing to marry a couple for any reason.

If the government's plan is implemented to allow civil marriages for same-sex couples but not religious marriages, then there will still be one more hurdle for LGBTs to remove before true marriage equality would be achieved. In the meantime, faith groups that want to act in a non-discriminatory way towards all loving committed couples with marriage licenses would be forced by laws to exhibit discrimination towards same-sex couples. That is, the government is placing restrictions on religious liberty of both the couple and the faith group. They would be forcing faith groups to violate their own belief systems.

Perhaps, when the government's proposed laws come into effect, some clergyperson may elect to perform an act of civil disobedience by marrying a same-sex couple with a valid marriage license in a religious ceremony. It would probably be necessary to sue the government to force it to register the marriage. However, such a case would appear to have a good chance of winning for the plaintiffs. A win would usher in true marriage equality to England and Wales.

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Discussion on this topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Stephen Gray, "Government publishes proposals and opens consultation on same sex marriage," Pink News, 2012-MAR-15, at: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  2. "Equal civil marriage consultation," Home Office, 2012-MAR-15, at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/

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 Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM > UK > here

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-MAR-20
Latest update: 2012-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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