I am disappointed and saddened at the last minute attempt that will be made in the House of Lords on 8 December 2011 by Baroness O’Cathain (see below) to revoke the regulations to allow civil partnership registration in religious premises and would urge its clear rejection. This appears to be a cynical effort to derail the measure on rather spurious grounds.
The amendment to the Equality Bill permitting registration originated in the House of Lords and was passed with wide support. The matter of churches being “compelled” to register was dealt with by Section 202 which stated that “nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so”. This is reinforced in the regulations. Churches are no more obliged to enable civil partnerships to be registered on their premises than hotels or other commercial premises.
British Unitarian and Free Christians have welcomed this opportunity to recognise in public, and support, a commitment between two individuals to each other. I am sure we will be amongst the first to register some of our premises and have registration ceremonies. This is entirely a local decision for each congregation reflecting our commitment to congregational autonomy and democratic governance as we made clear in our submission during to the consultation by the Equality Office.
Compulsion in matters of religion goes against our long history of struggle for our religious freedom. We are confident that the legislation offers the protection to those churches who hold a differing view on this issue and do not wish to register their premises for this purpose. They have that freedom.
Unitarian congregations must not be prevented at this late stage in seeking to take forward our own sincerely held views and to offer same sex couples the opportunity to register their civil partnership”
House of Lords Future Business
Thursday 8 December at 11.00am
†Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2661) Baroness O’Cathain to move that a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Regulations, laid before the House on 8 November, be annulled on the grounds that they do not fulfil the Government’s pledge to protect properly faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships where it is against their beliefs. 43rd Report from the Merits Committee