Following the government’s announcement yesterday that churches will be able to apply to hold civil partnerships in their premises, rights groups have had a mixed reaction to the news.
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone confirmed on Wednesday that regulations should be in place by the end of 2011 that would put into effect the “Alli Amendment“.
The Equality Act amendment will allow the celebration of civil partnerships in religious buildings for the first time. It won support in the House of Lords last year by a majority of 74 and should come into effect on 5 December.
Stonewall’s Chief Executive, Ben Summerskill, said: “Since the first civil partnerships took place in 2005, religious groups and lesbian and gay people of faith have expressed the importance of being able to celebrate their commitment to one another in their place of worship.
“It is a clear signal of how far we’ve come that, for the first time, the many lesbian and gay couples of faith in Britain today will be able to do so.
“These changes follow extensive Stonewall lobbying and represent not only hard-won cross party support but the wishes of a number of religious denominations.
“It is an important issue of religious freedom in the 21st century that both individuals and consenting religious groups are able to celebrate civil partnerships in their places of worships.”
But a spokesman for the Church of England, who have said they will refuse to opt in, said: “We will study the draft regulations as a matter of urgency to check that they deliver the firm assurances that have been given to us and others that the new arrangements will operate by way of denominational opt-in.
“If ministers have delivered what they said they would in terms of genuine religious freedom, we would have no reason to oppose the regulations.”
Peter Tatchell, who coordinates the Equal Love campaign to remove gender barriers on civil partnerships and marriages, warned not to lose sight of the goal of full marriage equality, saying a situation which allows religious civil partnerships but not religious same-sex marriages is inconsistent.
He said: “It is ironic that while the government is allowing civil partnerships in religious premises, it recently announced that it will maintain the ban on religious gay marriages, even if a faith organisation wants to conduct them.
“We believe religious organisations should be permitted by law to perform both same-sex religious marriages and same-sex civil partnerships, if they wish to do so. The current blanket bans must go.
“It is an infringement of religious freedom to prohibit faith organisations from conducting these ceremonies when some of them – such as Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews – would like to perform them.
“The Equality Minister is supporting discrimination and attacking religious liberty.”