On Monday 5th December the law which prohibits Civil Partnerships being registered in religious buildings ceases to be.Following an amendment to the Equalities Act in the House of Lords, the Government has now relaxed the rules and churches will soon be able to apply to offer Civil Partnerships.
The Government has been careful not to force churches or denominations to conduct Civil Partnerships and has produced 'opt in' legislation which leave it entirely up to churches to decide if they want to apply.This both extends equalities legislation and preserves religious freedom of belief.
But the Church of England is not being so even handed in its response. All Anglican churches will need to get permission from the Church of England's governing body to be registered. The CofE has told the Government that the relevant governing body is General Synod. So far this seems reasonable until we learn that the Church of England has no plans to ask General Synod if it would grant such permission or not. In the absence of such a vote, the answer will remain 'No'.The paper sent to General Synod members today (1st December) makes this clear:
"an application for the approval of a church or chapel of the Church of England cannot be validly made unless the application is accompanied by the consent in writing of the General Synod. That means that it will not be legally possible for any church or chapel of the Church of England (irrespective of who owns or controls the building in question) to become approved premises for the registration of civil partnerships without the consent of the Church of England as a whole expressed by way of a resolution of the General Synod. In the absence of such a resolution the Synod would not have given its consent for the purpose of the regulations."And that goes with the recent statement from a spokesperson at Church House who told the press that "The Church of England has no intention of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in its churches."
So that's that then. If Synod isn't asked - then Synod can't say 'yes' - so the easiest way of avoiding the whole issue is 'Don't ask'.This is, of course an interesting variation on the 'Don't ask - don't tell' policy which has kept gay and lesbian priests quiet for years. Under this unofficial policy, gay priests have been allowed to continue in ministry as long as they haven't put their Bishops in a 'difficult position' by being honest with them.
Now we have a new variation - "Don't ask - don't know" - which will enable the Church of England to continue to evade the in inconvenience of having to face up the fact the there are gay Christians, gay Clergy, even gay Bishops - many of whom are in fulfilled loving same-sex relationships.But shhh - don't ask.