Friday, 1 April 2011

Civil partnership ‘carte-blanche’

The government has announced a consultation on its proposal to authorise civil partnership registrations on church premises. It's clear that the religious symbols, decorations and setting will invest the registration with a sense of lawfulness in the sight of God and the church's endorsement and blessing. What is unclear here is whether consent (general, or specific) to use premises is a blanket acceptance of its use for any civil partnership to be registered therein.

Even for those who, unlike me, believe that the church should endorse civil partnerships with a religious setting and ceremony, is that consent also a 'carte-blanche' abdication of any church discretion towards all such unions, even those that show a scant regard for former spouses and the children of past relationships?

Does the faith group representative have the power to refuse the use of its premises for the registration of a specific partnership, when, for instance, a couple of divorcees (with their former partners still alive) asks for it? Could that person enquire further as is the case for re-marriage in church?

Probably not, because it's a secular arrangement. As such, the registration does not need to meet the same criteria as re-marriage in church. It can be conducted on church premises by a secular representative of a council that is (some liberal commentators would say, thankfully) ‘liberated’ from restrictive Christian views on divorce and re-marriage.

A civil partnership is not a marriage. There is a specific form of declaration by which matrimony is solemnized in church as lawful and therefore recognised as valid.

The provisions and entitlement to undertake a civil partnership remain completely under state authority. The registration is currently conducted by a civil partnership registrar, although ministers of religion may apply for this designation.

At first sight, the proposal is for the church to consider granting consent to the use of certified places of worship for civil partnership, for those places to 'retain their religious symbols, decorations and objects in situ' for registration, but to have no say in the eligibility of specific couples that wish to use these premises for civil partnership registration.

Of course, the accompanying, but separate religious service is under church jurisdiction and, even with the proposed consent, its nature would be established by agreement between the religious leader and the couple themselves.

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