The Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester has announced it received a licence from Manchester City Council to hold civil partnerships on its premises, believed to be the first of its kind.
The General Register Office believes the chapel is the first religious building in England and Wales to be approved for civil partnership ceremonies.
The chapel said they would be the first to allow gay and lesbian couples to hold a religious ceremony on religious premises, with the civil ceremony taking place before or afterwards.
The Revd Jane Barraclough, minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, said: “We are delighted to be able to offer this service to the LGBT community, which we consider a basic human right.
“We note with sadness the history of homophobia in many faith traditions as well as the current hateful language from some faith leaders that has received so much coverage in the media.
“But this is a time of great celebration for us, not sadness. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Manchester Registers’ Office who have gone out of their way to help us with the application process. The City of Manchester also has a long and fine tradition of celebrating human diversity in all its glorious manifestations.”
Revd Barraclough told PinkNews.co.uk the chapel was hoping to hold a “significant number” of civil partnerships as the only religious premises in Manchester to currently able to hold the ceremonies.
Councillor Sue Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, with special responsibility for equal opportunities, said: “When the legislation changed the Council acted quickly to make it possible for religious buildings to apply for a licence.
“As a city which embraces the equality agenda it is no surprise that Manchester is one of the first cities to licence a religious building to hold civil partnerships registrations. We were pleased to support the Unitarian Church through this process.”
Regulations allowing civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious venues came into force in December.
Last-minute arguments in Westminster that provisions in the civil partnerships regulations and the Alli Amendment in the Equality Act 2010 would not protect places of religious worship from over-arching equality principles forcing them to perform gay ceremonies alongside straight weddings were rejected after repeated assurances from the government and legal analysis of the rules said this would not be the case.
Unitarians have also long called for equal marriage rights for gays and were amongst the earliest to train women clergy. In 1977 it was formally resolved that Unitarian ministry be open to all, regardless of sex, race, colour or sexual orientation, since when there continue to be a number of openly LGBT ministers serving the denomination.
Cross Street Chapel is celebrating the 350th year of its congregation this year.