Civil partnerships in religious premises “by the end of the year”

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The Home Office has confirmed its decision to allow religious buildings to host civil partnerships in a report published today.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone confirmed regulations should be in place by the end of 2011.

Following a consultation earlier this year, the document confirms the scheme which will allow religious premises to apply to be approved for civil partnership registrations.

When civil partnerships were introduced in 2005, the law stated that they could not be held in religious buildings, nor contain any religious language.

The report details the regulations needed to enforce the Equality Act 2010, which removed the prohibition on holding the ceremonies at churches, synagogues and other religious buildings.

While the Unitarian Church and the Quakers as well as Liberal and Reform Judaism said they would hold ceremonies for gay couples, the Catholic Church and Church of England said they would not.

Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, welcomed the publication.

He said: “The publication of the regulations is a further step forward towards equality for lesbian and gay people. Many Unitarian ministers already perform same sex blessings so I am sure that many churches and chapels will seek to register their premises for civil partnership registrations.

I am glad that the Government have responded to many of the concerns expressed during the consultation.

We welcome the greater flexibility that has been introduced for local authorities to reduce the bureaucratic burden of registration which should lead to a reduction in the cost to churches which could have been prohibitive. We will be watching carefully to ensure that local authorities set realistic fees and do not see this as a chance to profit in a time of economic stringency. The abolition of a time limit will also lower the cost and is a major change.”

Lynne Featherstone said: “The government is advancing equality for LGB people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths.

“No religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward.”

The move has no effect on the government’s consultation next year on equal marriage.