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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