Exclusive: Stonewall to fight for civil partnerships to be held in churches

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Gay rights charity Stonewall said last night it will seek to add an amendment to the Equality Bill to allow religious buildings to hold civil partnership ceremonies.

The amendment would give ministers of religion the option of presiding over the ceremonies and would not be compulsory.

When civil partnerships legislation was passed in 2005, a prohibition was placed on them being held in religious buildings. They must instead be carried out in other buildlings licenced to host them.

Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said the charity was working with the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and the Metropolitan Community Church to get the amendment tabled.

Other faiths such as the Quakers have also expressed their support for recognising gay couples in the past. This year, the Quakers voted to hold gay marriages, rather than civil partnerships.

Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk last night he was optimistic about the chances of getting the amendment tabled but conceded that the House of Lords may not be in favour.

He said: “We are very clear that this is an issue of religious freedom and if faiths want to celebrate the ceremonies of two men or two women, it’s not for someone else to say you can’t do that.

“Right now, faiths shouldn’t be forced to hold civil partnerships, although in ten or 20 years, that may change.”

He added: “I think that one of the reasons the prohibition was introduced was a slightly patronising view that gay people aren’t religious. But our view is that gays and lesbians are just like everyone else and we can’t see a reason why you shouldn’t allow them to have their civil partnerships in churches.”

The amendment is expected to be made when the bill is moved before the House of Lords in the next four to six weeks. It is not known whether this could happen before or after Christmas.

Rev Sharon Ferguson, of the LGCM, told PinkNews.co.uk: “As far as I know, civil partnerships are really good in that they give us legal protection. But they do not give equality. Lesbian and gay people can only have a civil ceremony but heterosexual people have the choice.

“I’m not bothered about calling civil partnerships marriage – that’s just semantics. I want to see equality in that any body registered and licenced to conduct a marriage can also conduct a civil partnership. And any building registered to conduct a marriage can also conducted a civil partnership.

“For those ministers of religion who are happy to conduct a civil partnership, they should be able to do so. It doesn’t have to be compulsory. All ministers of religion have the right to refuse any heterosexual couple to marriage.”

Rev Ferguson added: “It’s no major change, no major political work. But the objection will obviously come from the House of Lords, where there are lots of bishops, and the religious right.”

She added that she wanted to see civil partnerships also available to straight couples.