Because in the UK, where they do not, a debate is underway about whether churches should or should not be allowed to perform civil ceremonies for gay couple. But they’re also debating — as we should, too! — whether “marriage” is a civil function, or a sacerdotal function. (I’ve got some thoughts on that!)
This month the equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, said the government was committed to removing the legal barrier to civil partnerships’ registration on the religious premises “of those faith groups who choose to allow this to happen”, adding it would be a “permissive measure” with “no obligation on faith groups to host civil partnerships”. The change to the equality bill, known as the Alli amendment, was passed in March 2010.
But peers, led by Lady O’Cathain, will debate the change on 15 December – 10 days after it comes into effect – in an attempt to scupper it entirely amid continued fears that churches will be under pressure to opt in to the voluntary scheme. If successful it would prevent all religious premises from registering civil partnerships – including those happy to do so.
Mark Hill QC, an ecclesiastical lawyer, in a submission to the House of Lords merits of statutory instruments committee, criticised the Alli amendment, calling it “somewhat unsatisfactory”. “It presents a profound difficulty for a significant number of faith groups who regard same-sex relations as inimical to their sincere beliefs, yet (probably more through oversight than design) it only partially satisfies the secularists (and those faith groups for who same-sex relationships are compatible with their beliefs), allowing a religious building to be used for what remains a wholly secular function.”