Yesterday the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (URC) voted to allow their churches, if they wish, to host civil partnership ceremonies for same sex couples.
This is a significant decision by the URC and is another step forward towards full inclusion of LGBT people within the churches. This goes a long way to breaking down barriers between people of faith and the LGBT community. Unitarians will wholeheartedly welcome the decision.
For one of the mainstream denominations, with close connections with other large nonconformist churches, the Baptists and the Methodists, and well as the Church of England, to take such a courageous decision is encouraging.
We have a common historic heritage with the URC going back to the Great Ejection in 1662, whose 350th anniveresary we are marking this year. It is good to see that the shared values of religious freedom and tolerance led us to similar decisions.
I have already been in touch with the URC to see if they will join the four groups who have been working closely on this issue - ourselves in the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, the Quakers, Liberal Judaism and the Movement for Reform Judaism - to address some of the impediments that are currently limiting implementation of this provision of the Equality Act. It is clear that the fees for registration charged by some local authorities are excessive and that the guidance from central Government is not always reflected in local decision-making. With this decision by a much larger denomination we hope that we can strengthen the pressure to ensure these concerns are addressed”.
In 2008 the Unitarian General Assembly urged the Government to allow civil partnerships in religious premises and worked to achieve legislative change that came into force in December 2011. Cross Unitarian Chapel in Manchester was the first religious premises in England and Wales to be registered and the first ceremony was hosted at Ullet Road Unitarian Church in Liverpool in May 2012.