The announcement by the Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, at the weekend that a consultation on same sex civil marriage will commence in March 2012 is welcome but in so many ways remains disappointing.
It would be churlish not to acknowledge the progress that has been made by this and the last Government. The implementation of the Equalities Act clause permitting civil partnership registration on religious premises is moving ahead and I understand that the Government will publish its response to the consultation it held earlier this year in October and is on track for regulations to be in place by the end of the year. All good news for lesbian and gay people.
Whilst I welcome the publication of a date for the consultation to commence I am disappointed that it is not until March 2012. There is no reason why it should not move ahead before Christmas.
I am also concerned that the consultation will not include arrangements for same sex religious marriage. This is a discriminatory measure that is not sustainable in the longer term.
As a “free” church Unitarians and Free Christians are very conscious that the state should not unduly interfere in our internal business. We also acknowledge our responsibilities as charitable organisations and as part of civil society to the wider community and the laws enacted by Parliament.
Our freedom to worship together and indeed for opposite sex couples to be married in our churches was hard won in the 19th century and it is disappointing that our wish to hold same sex marriage ceremonies appears to have been stymied by the requirements of the religious establishment. We do not wish to force others to act against their conscience but neither should the law force us to act against ours. Whether or not churches will conduct religious marriage ceremonies for same sex couples should be a matter for them.
The Government should not see implementation of civil partnership registration in religious premises as a substitute for same sex religious marriage.