To Wed or not to Wed?

Publish Date: 02/11/2011

The Government have today released a report confirming its decision to allow religious buildings to host civil partnerships.

Places of worship in England and Wales will be able to host same-sex civil partnerships by 2012.

The shift will cover religious premises of all beliefs, including mosques and synagogues. It means those places of worship that wish to do so can perform civil partnerships; this legislation does not put places of worship under any legal obligation to perform civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.

The government's Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, said no religious group would be forced to host them, but those who wished to could apply by the end of the year.

The Unitarian Church and the Quakers as well as Liberal and Reform Judaism have said that they would hold ceremonies for gay couples but the Catholic Church and Church of England have said they would not.

Following on from the consultation to allow civil partnerships on religious premises the government have also recently announced that a formal consultation into same-sex civil marriage would be launched in March 2012.

The Lesbian & Gay Foundation welcome the news that the government are to launch a consultation to consider how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples although the consultation does not currently plan to cover same sex religious marriage or heterosexual civil partnerships.

However, we see this as another step towards full marriage equality, and recognising that the love and emotion two same-sex people share for one another, is the same as the love and emotion an opposite sex couple share.

A complex area...

Surely, true equality cannot be realised if the way relationships are legally recognised are called something different, and if they are only open to certain groups.

All relationships should be valued and treated with dignity and respect – but while same sex relationships are legally bound by civil partnerships and heterosexual relationships are legally bound by marriage – it represents that these relationships are not on a level playing field, they are not viewed as the same – they are unequal.

That’s why marriage equality is so important – it recognises that all relationships are the same and that they are as important as each other.

But still under this consultation religious marriage will not be open to same-sex people, which still highlights the difference between heterosexual relationships and same-sex ones.

Also, this consultation will not take into account heterosexual couples who want to enter into a civil partnership, perhaps because they want legal protections, but don’t agree with the institution of marriage.

Again, people should have equal access and opportunity to enter into a civil marriage, religious marriage or civil partnership – regardless of sexual orientation. 

The message that this would send out would have a massive cultural impact in terms of this generation and the next, with respect to understanding and respecting all relationships.

There is some confusion around the difference between civil partnership and civil marriage – some say there is no or very little difference.

However, there are several subtle differences between the two. One main difference is rights abroad – would same-sex civil marriage see rights recognised more overseas than civil partnerhsips currently do?

For trans communities, same sex civil marriage could resolve some issues trans couples have in terms of having to dissolve marriages/civil partnerships when one or both partners receive their Gender Recognition Certificate.

What do you think?

One thing we must remember though is to have our say for equality and LGBT rights when the consultation comes round in March.

We've seen this year that those opposed to LGBT equality are more than happy to get involved in these consultations, it's absolutely vital that when we get the opportunity to have our say, about the issues that affect our lives, our rights and our futures - we must seize it!

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

Both the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have passed Conference resolutions in support of same-sex marriage – currently the Labour Party and Conservative Party have no party policy on the issue, but both the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Labour Leader Ed Miliband have publicly voiced their support for same-sex marriage.

However, we must not be complacent and see 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.

Coming Soon: The Lesbian & Gay Foundation will be publishing a new resource that takes a fresh look at the rights and responsibilities of Civil Partnerships to tie-in with the 6th anniversary of the first civil partnerships which took place in the UK in December 2005.

For more on this and other LGBT equalities go to:  http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/equalities/lgbt/