6th Anniversary of 1st Civil Partnership - but what for the future?

Publish Date: 02/12/2011

Today sees the 6th anniversary of the first civil partnership formed under the Civil Partnership Act 2004  which took place on 5 December 2005 ahead of the usual 15-day waiting period which was waived because one of the couple was suffering from a terminal illness and died the following day.

This reminds us of some of the many requests we receive to find suitable religious leaders who would be supportive of blessing a civil partnership. One particular couple we heard from was  in a very similar situation.

They were so desperate to have a religious blessing for their partnership that they called the LGF’s helpline  to see if we knew anyone who would carry out a blessing. Fortunately we did, the couple had their blessing and soon after one of the couple sadly passed away but the important thing was they had managed to have their relationship blessed and that meant something really important to them both.

These cases remind us that although having a civil partnership might not be for everyone, and having your relationship recognised by a person of faith isn’t important to all couples, it is extremely important to many people and of course they should have the right to have their partnership recognised in their chosen place of worship.

Currently this is one of the main areas of discussion around Civil Partnerships because although they have been a huge success in the UK with over 40,000 Civil Partnerships having taken place in the UK since December 2005 the government is trying to allow those religious premises (that wish to do so) in England and Wales the right to host same-sex civil partnerships.

Until now, Civil Partnerships have been strictly non-religious and the only option was for people who chose to, to get their partnership blessed. If you can find a gay friendly religious leader who will do the blessing, this can take place after any ceremony.

However, new laws planned would allow those religious organisations who want to carry out Civil Partnerships like the Unitarian Church, the Quakers and Liberal and Reform Judaism to have the ability to do so.

The plan to allow same-sex couples to hold civil partnership ceremonies on religious premises was scheduled to come into law today, but it has faced opposition as some MP’s do not believe the matter has been debated properly in the House of Commons and some members of The House of Lords also share this view.

Although ministers insist that faith groups will not be forced to host civil partnerships if they go against their beliefs, it is feared that legal action against religious establishments could potentially be taken on human rights grounds.

An Early Day Motion which has been put forward by five MPs led by Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, requests that proposed regulations be annulled. This could see a Commons committee formed to analyse the effect of the regulations, and if necessary, the Government could then allow a vote in the House.

The House of Lords will also debate the issue on 15 December and will be allowed a free vote on the issue.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron referenced the Conservative Party’s support for gay marriage in his keynote speech at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, and a consultation on same-sex civil marriage has also been scheduled for next year.

It is testament to how far lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans rights have come when proposals for same-sex civil partnerships on religious premises and same sex marriage are being discussed in government on a national level.

However we are already seeing that those opposed to same sex partnerships either in religious settings or indeed the future debate on same sex marriages are more than happy to get involved in opposing such legislation and engaging in consultations to obstruct progressive legislation in this area.

We must not be complacent and see civil partnerships on religious premises or same-sex marriage as a foregone conclusion – we must fight to ensure that this gets through both Houses of Parliament, and then we’ll start to see the move towards true equality.

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation have written to members of The House of Lords and received some reassuring support for the legislation to be carried out as planned. We wait to see what happens next.

Coming Soon: The Lesbian & Gay Foundation will soon be publishing a new resource that takes a fresh look at the rights and responsibilities of Civil Partnerships.