(Photo: AP Images / Sang Tan)
The ban on gay ceremonies in religious institutions in England is set to be lifted. According to reports, liberal MP Lynne Featherstone will make the announcement later today. However, the removal of the ban will not be official until Dec. 5.
Members of the Church of England have already voiced opposition to the idea of having gay ceremonies in their house of worship. The Church of England has stated that it has “no intention” of hosting civil ceremonies within their churches.
However, British Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone stated that "no religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward.”
To begin with the move will be entirely voluntary with no church being forced to perform the ceremonies. But Church officials are still concerned that should they choose not to hold the ceremonies that supporters would push the matter further, and that over the coming few years the boundaries will be pushed back further.
Marriage between same-sex couples is not legal in the United Kingdom. However, in 2005 civil partnerships were recognized under law to allow homosexual couples the same legal rights as if they were married.
It is estimated that 1,500 ceremonies would take place annually in U.K. churches once the ban is lifted. Currently there are approximately 5,500 civil ceremonies preformed in the United Kingdom each year.
Many pro-gay religious sects have lobbied for the reading of hymns and other creeds within a house of worship during civil ceremonies. But the Church of England has maintained its traditional biblical stance that the Church does not bless same sex-couples.
Some in the Church are worried that if gay couples are not allowed to marry within a church that they could file for discrimination under the Equality Act. Homosexual couples have already achieved legal victories against businesses that have objected to them on belief grounds.
The Rev. David James, former Bishop of Bradford, is worried that over time the idea of civil ceremonies in churches would shift from being totally voluntary to more of an expectation. Many have strong concerns that should the ban be lifted and civil ceremonies are allowed to take place within churches the distinction between marriage and civil ceremonies would be blurred further.
Currently, civil ceremonies are entirely secular.