Controversy over U.K. Civil Partnerships Continues; Opposing Churches Chime In

LONDON – The controversy regarding homosexuality in the Church and same-sex civil unions reached new levels over the weekend as one of Wiltshire’s most prominent religious figures took part in a civil partnership ceremony on Saturday.

Canon Jeremy Davies of Salisbury Cathedral formally and legally registered his homosexual relationship in the city, which will see him and his partner given similar legal rights as traditional heterosexual married couples. The Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005, and ceremonies have taken place in various sites across England since Dec. 21.

Canon Davies registered his long-term relationship in a ceremony that was held in private, and was combined with the Canon’s 60th birthday celebrations.

The highly controversial law introduced last month means that any homosexual couple that wants to form a partnership recognized by the law, must register their intentions with their local council. However, the legislation stops short of creating a married couple. Therefore, unlike marriages, the signing of the legal papers for a civil partnership does not need to take place in public.

The rights enjoyed by those signing up for civil partnerships include similar tax and inheritance benefits as married couples.

The Church of England, however, still bans same-sex marriage.

Just weeks after the controversial law came into force, Cardinal Keith O’Brien – the most senior Roman Catholic in Scotland – spoke out to accuse cabinet ministers in London and Edinburgh of devaluing family life by allowing the Civil Partnership Act to pass.

O’Brien said that the family remained “the basic social unit,” which should be recognized, protected and promoted a capstone of society.

“When our lawmakers condone and endorse trends in society which are ultimately ruinous of family life, we are entitled to question their motivation and condemn their behavior,” he told his congregation.

At the end of 2005, Pope Benedict XVI also called on the U.K. Government to acknowledge “the indispensable role of stable marriage and family life” for the good of society.

In December 2005, Anglican Mainstream urged the Government to reconsider the Civil Partnerships Act. Dr Philip Giddings and Canon Dr Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream told U.K.-based Christian Today in a joint statement: "Marriage is a God-given institution between a man and a woman in which children are born and nurtured so that human society may flourish. The Civil Partnership Act 2005 is both confusing and unjust. It is confusing because it obscures the vital distinction between same-sex relationships and marriage.

“The rights in law which the Act confers are designed to be the same as the rights which flow from marriage. Yet the government insists that a civil partnership is not marriage. Some people are understandably referring to these partnerships as 'marriage,’ but calling something marriage does not make it marriage as properly understood.”

Anglican Mainstream said the Act was unjust because it excludes siblings and close relatives who are not married and “yet should surely be eligible for the same rights.”

“By excluding close relatives, the Act clearly identifies the rights it confers on same-sex relationships with those consequent upon marriage,” said Dr Giddings and Canon Sugden. “Civil partnerships are thus a parody of the marriage relationship, which is God’s provision for human flourishing.”

The two men concluded: “The church cannot bless something that harms those we are in God's name seeking to help. The government would be wise to re-consider this unjust and confusing legislation.”

The Evangelical Council has also warned of the negative consequences of the Civil Partnerships Act following the hundreds of gay civil partnership ceremonies that took place up and down the country.

The Chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council, the Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull, warned Christians in particular of the need to uphold the unique position of marriage between one man and one woman.

"We recognize, of course, the need for fair and equal treatment before the law for all people,” he told Christian Today. “However, Christians need to be very concerned indeed at the assertion of moral equivalence between marriage and civil partnerships. They are not of equal moral standing.”

He added that Christians have a unique role to teach others about the sanctity of the traditional family.

The Rev. Turnbull said: “Christians must be clear, while acting with sensitivity and care, to assert the Christian teaching that celibate singleness or monogamous marriage are the ways in which God has provided for the best moral family framework for society. We depart from that at our peril both as a society and indeed as a church."