Still a lot of rumour and speculation over civil partnerships

While the government has confirmed that religious elements will be allowed in civil partnerships, suggestions they will go further - such as by allowing the word “marriage” - are rumour and speculation.

Symon Hill (@SymonHill) is associate director of Ekklesia and author of The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion; this summer, he will walk from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for his former homophobia

UPDATE  17/2/11 14:00: The government has announced that religious buildings will be allowed to be used for same-sex civil partnerships. Ministers say they will be consulting further to discuss how the legislation can be developed moving ahead.

It was reported this week that the government is to allow religious elements in same-sex civil partnership ceremonies. If this news sounds familiar, it is because we’ve already heard it.

When Parliament passed the Equality Act a few weeks before the last general election, it included an amendment along these lines. The amendment resulted from a vote in the House of Lords last March. What has changed is that the coalition appears to be getting round to implementing it.

While the government has confirmed that religious elements will be allowed in civil partnerships, suggestions they will go further – such as by allowing the word “marriage” – are rumour and speculation.

As the law stands, civil partnerships may not include prayers or scripture readings or take place in religious buildings. When Parliament voted to change this last year, they triggered misleading headlines about churches being forced to marry same-sex couples against their will. In reality, the relevant clause of the Equality Act clearly rules this out.

The Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips has attributed the campaign to change the law to a:

“…politically motivated faction within a tiny minority of the population.”

In reality, this is not a campaign led by the ‘militant gay lobby’ of homophobic fantasy, but by religious people who want to marry their partner in the context of their faith.

Waheed Alli, who proposed the original amendment to the Equality Bill, is a gay Muslim. The Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews and Metropolitan Community Church have said that they are likely to use the change to seek legal recognition for the same-sex ceremonies they already carry out.

Permitting religious elements in civil partnerships is regarded by many of these groups only as a step in the right direction. Allowing the word “marriage” would be another. But anomalies remain. Some religious groups have more legal rights than others to conduct wedding ceremonies. The Christian think tank Ekklesia favours a thorough overhaul of marriage law to recognise the reality of a plural society.

Parts of the media seem to assume that religious groups and LGBT groups are by definition opposed to each other. Now we have a campaign pioneered by people who belong to both. This goes some way towards explaining why it’s generated so much anger.

If there’s somebody that right-wing Christians hate more than a queer atheist, it’s a queer Christian.

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11 Responses to “Still a lot of rumour and speculation over civil partnerships”

  1. Symon Hill

    Rumour and speculation over civil partnerships – (My article today on @leftfootfwd) #LGBT #queerChristians

  2. Stephen W

    “If there’s somebody that right-wing Christians hate more than a queer atheist, it’s a queer Christian.”

    Your bigotry and stereotyping is noted. I am a right-wing Christian. I hate neither queer atheists nor queer Christians. I support these changes, as do many other right-wing Christians I know.

    I didn’t realise cheap shots and self-righteous judgemental cracks were in line with Jesus’ teachings. Or do those teachings only apply to left-wing people.

  3. 13eastie

    Hear, hear, Stephen W.

    For a piece entitled “Still a lot of rumour and speculation over civil partnerships” on a supposedly “evidence-based” blog, that’s one hell of a punch-line LFF come up with.

    Hill does a fantastic job of making it look like he’s never visited a church, and suffering from a pathological disposition to putting words into the mouths of Christians at large. How lame.

    As is usually the case, if you really want to find hatred and bigotry, you need only look who is holding up the straw man.

  4. Symon Hill

    Stephen W. – Please accept my apologies. I am pleased you support the change and that you know other right-wing Christians who also do so. I should perhaps have said “certain right-wing Christians” and used a different word to “hate”. I was describing my experience of *some* right-wing Christians, but of course this is not the case for all of them.

    13eastie – At what point do you think I put words into the mouths of Christians as a whole? I refer to specific Christian groups and provide links to evidence of their views. I have never claimed to speak for Christians as a whole. What gives you the impression that I have never visited a church? I’ve spent quite a lot of time in quite a lot of churches over the last sixteen years.

  5. Stephen W

    I accept your apology. Thank you.

    I think that this whole type of language should be avoided to be honest. Right and left wing are political descriptions that only poorly carry over into defining groups of Christians. There are right and left-wing Christians politically who support and others who oppose greater gay-rights. Nor is right-wing and left-wing politically the same as conservative or liberal in terms of theology or belief about gay-rights. I appreciate what you’re trying to do with this article, but it is not helped by stooping to the level of those who wish to stereotype the queer and Christians communities as necessary enemies by using different (but equally inaccurate) stereotypes.

    Christians should avoid the dehumanising and stereotyping language that is common in politics where it is common to hear talk about “tory scum” and comments that right-wingers are evil, or the equivalent that all lefties are communists, scroungers etc. It is unhelpful and unChristian and we should steer wide clear of it in all instances.

    And 13eastie falls into the trap of making as wild and generalised claims about you as as you yourself did about others, which is something he shouldn’t do. We need clear and compassionate heads. but I believe he is referring to where you ascribe views to all “right-wing Christians”, clearly putting words into the mouths of, if not Christians as a whole, then certainly a great many of them. I’m quite happy to accept your apology about this though, as I’m sure that’s not really what you meant.

  6. Fagburn

    Yes, it’s yes to civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings, no to gay marriage – announcement will be made at midnight…

  7. Malcolm S

    Surely if you are a right wing christian, at least in your opinions on homosexuality then you would be against gay marriages? Don’t you remove yourself from the classification of right wing if your for gay marriages, a rather liberal view?

    As for religion and gay rights in general. All religious groups in this country must evolve with the times, as many have done so well in the past or find themselves out of touch and losing relevance within our society. Failure to do so would render these groups harbouring ever more intolerant views and arenas for extremism to evolve.

  8. 13eastie

    @3 Simon,

    “If there’s somebody that right-wing Christians hate more than a queer atheist, it’s a queer Christian.”

    I am a right-wing Christian, and I believe a good many parishioners here would describe themselves likewise. My wife and I were married by our local vicar, who will be having his own civil partnership blessed in our church this spring. Looking around our congregation, I cannot for the life of me see where hate comes into it. In fact, I tink one would struggle to find an environment in which tolerance is more vigorously promoted. Your wide experience of churches does not show through to Anglican readers of your piece. If you claim such breadth of exposure then you must at once concede that what you have written is deliberately unbalanced.

    In your final, shrieking, emphatic paragraph, you ascribed views to me and countless others like me without qualification or justification. You put words into the mouths of those Christians whose politics do not coincide with your own so as to attack them as a group. Definitively this is a straw man argument. The claim is false and incendiary. Further, your attempt to conflate faith and politics with a simple right/left “four-legs-good-two-legs-bad” distillation is simply infantile. Looked at in the most generous light, what you have written is sloppy and unsound. You shouldn’t be surprised to be called out for it.

  9. Kitty Wakefield

    Thanks for this article..

    My partner is a Quaker, neither a lefty nor a right winger, isn’t particulary liberal or nicer than any other person which apparently all Quakers are and by implication I suppose are more interested in simply being “nice”….

    You’re absolutely correct this is about religious freedom, allowing religious people like the Quakers to interpret relgion in their way and not to have legal barriers put up by other relgious to stop them practising what they believe in…

    The next stage is an absolute must, “gay” marriage, this isn’t just about the LGBT lobby!

  10. Stephen W

    “Surely if you are a right wing christian, at least in your opinions on homosexuality then you would be against gay marriages? Don’t you remove yourself from the classification of right wing if your for gay marriages, a rather liberal view?”

    @Malcolm S

    If you’re just talking about Right-wing in terms of referring to one’s theological views about homosexuality and gay marriage, and using right-wing as a synonym for theologically conservative, then yes. But that is a substantial leap to make.

    Right wing can mean several things. Most normally, even when referring to the ‘religious Right’ it means politically right-wing, especially considering this is a site that 90% of the time deals solely with politics. It is arguable whether right-wing and left-wing equates to conservative and liberal in political terms, and is even more arguable when discussing theological opinion where these terms are carried over from their main usage in political discussion.

    More than that though, that you are religiously conservative or even right-wing does not mean you take a stereotypical view in all cases, nor that you are consumed by “hate”. Assuming people who disagree with you are motivated by hate and not by honest and honourable disagreement is a nasty and fascist step to take and deeply unChristian.

    I would consider myself both politically and theologically conservative in the vast majority of cases, and that I would generally be recognised as such by others. But I support these proposals and oppose homophobia generally.

    It’s a case of using stereotyping and bigoted language, something that should be avoided by everyone, I would have thought especially those who claim to be opposing bigotry themselves.

  11. Daniel Elton

    Although I think ‘right wing Christian’ and ‘Left wing Christian’ do have merits as terms, we need to communicate and language is always an approximation, there are difficulties. One interesting historical precedent is the evolution vs creationism debate. Creationism is considered a right wing position now. However, founder of the Labour Party, James Kier Hardie was anti-evolution, as was father of the modern Democratic Party, William Jennings Bryant, the prosecuter in the Monkey Scopes trial. They were partly anti-evolution out of religious conviction, but also because they saw the evolution vs creation debate as an analogy for arguments about free market economies vs planned economies. Their opponents in the debate were social darwinists. Which beliefs are grouped together change over time, but our terminology left and right don’t, and this can lead to problems

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