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UK civil unions may edge closer to marriage

Timothy Kincaid

July 4th, 2010

The distinctions between civil partnerships and marriages in the UK are peculiar to American notions of religious liberty and freedoms of speech. And one of them may soon disappear. (AP)

Britain’s government is considering letting same-sex couples include religious elements in civil partnership ceremonies.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone says the government’s review of gay equality rights will consider allowing homosexual couples to include hymn singing and religious readings in their union ceremonies.

Parliament recently removed the ban on same-sex unions in churches and other places of worship.

Yes, you soon may gain permission to sing hymns of rejoice to God (though, oddly enough, some religious ministers object to that).

However, this change could result in an oddity which challenges the distincions between all civil and religious recognition and some think the new conservative government may take a different step. (Times)

Mr Bryant said he believes the Government will eventually have to allow full homosexual marriage rather than creating the unusual situation under which same-sex couples can have religious language in their civil partnerships, but heterosexuals cannot in civil marriage.

During the election campaign, the Conservatives were the only main party to suggest that they would consider allowing full homosexual marriage, a move that although contentious would be easier to legislate for than altering existing laws on civil partnership and civil marriage.



July 4th, 2010 | LINK

This seems so weird to me. You can’t legislate how to follow particular religions. They should have done what other jurisdictions have done and allow them to opt-out.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK

The same current rules in terms of what can be done at a civil partnership ceremony (in terms of a ban on religious content) also apply to civil marriage ceremonies. The distinction between civil and religious marriage ceremonies is not “peculiar” to the UK, but actually is widespread in Europe.

I’m not defending the current state of affairs in the UK, but so much US comment is misinformed.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK

You can’t legislate how to follow particular religions.

Britain has a state religion, so I think they can actually.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK

“During the election campaign, the Conservatives were the only main party to suggest that they would consider allowing full homosexual marriage…”

Could you provide resources to back up this statement?

I seem to recall an off the cuff comment about marriage by a conservative but I don’t remember it being even a “suggestion” that they would seriously look at considering marriage equality for same-sex couples.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK

I didn’t mean they literally can’t. I meant that they shouldn’t. Kinda like how you can’t go around slapping people in the face, but really, you can.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK

You say there are misinformed comments being made, yet I don’t see you trying to inform. Would you care to elaborate? In the U.S., a priest can sign a marriage license. Is this not the case in the U.K.? Are they not stopping churches from ordaining a civil partnership?

July 4th, 2010 | LINK


In a religious marriage, a priest is licensed by the state to preside over the signing of the marriage certificate. That is done in another room, outside the service, and afterwards the service restarts. It is clear that the legal union is a separate state-licensed act from whatever is done “in the eyes of God”.

Civil marriages and civil partnerships are conducted in non-religious venues, usually a government register office, but it can be another licensed place. If such a venue offers one, it has to offer the other, otherwise it loses its license. The registrar is a government official (think of them as justices of the peace in this context) who conducts civil partnerships and civil marriages. Again, this official can’t discriminate. There was a case in which a registrar refused to officiate at civil partnerships on “religious grounds” and was fired. The council that employed her even refused to adapt her rota so she’d only do marriages. Her job was to do both, and that was that. Her dismissal has been upheld by an employment tribunal and on appeal.

My main point was that, at the moment, neither a civil marriage nor a civil partnership ceremony is allowed to have religious content, whether hymns or prayers or whatever. That was true of civil marriages long before civil partnerships came into force. (We had “Together at Last” from Annie, and even though our witnesses were our oldest friends, a vicar – in dog collar – and his wife, he was there in civilian capacity.)

Apart from the name, there are only minor differences between civil marriages and civil partnerships.None of them affects legal equality in tax, inheritance, immigration etc. With the NHS, health care is less of an issue than in the US, since it is not linked to employment or marital status, but if any company offers private care to married couples, it must by law also offer it to civil partners.

I am not defending the UK situation as ideal. Countries with full equality, including in name, are better. But UK civil partnerships give more full civil rights than anything currently on offer in my native US (including states with same-sex marriage), and – in the UK context – has been a good place to start, since they are beyond controversy in all mainstream parties.

I hope this, even though long-winded, is useful.

July 4th, 2010 | LINK


Your recollection is correct. The Tories had some off-the-record spin to that effect before the election, given a bit too much credence by one gay news website. It’s hard to know what will happen, especially with the Liberal Democrats (with a far stronger heritage of supporting equality than either of the two larger parties) now in coalition with the Conservatives. Stable to mildly positive is my best guess.

Speaking of Tampa:

Timothy Kincaid
July 4th, 2010 | LINK


It was a cut and paste from the Times. I don’t have independent knowledge of who did or did not support marriage in the UK

Other Fred in the UK
July 5th, 2010 | LINK

@TampaZeke and Clay

I am afraid I must correct you. The Tories made more than an off-the-cuff remark, it was part of their manifesto. In their Equalities Manifesto they specifically committed to considering the case to turn Civil Partnerships into Marriages. How sincerely it was meant at the time and whether it will be stuck to by the coalition government I cannot say.

Timothy (TRiG)
July 5th, 2010 | LINK

A UK marriage can be held in a church (which will presumably have religious content), or a registry office (where religious content is not allowed), or in another licensed venue (which may or may not have religious content). Civil Partnerships can be held only in registry offices, and therefore religious content is not allowed during the ceremony (though a minister may, of course, bless the union later).

I’ve heard of a straight couple wanting a non-religious registry office marriage, and having their choice of music contested because, though it was not originally written as religious music, it was later used as a setting of a hymn.

I’ve also heard that very few mosques are registered to perform marriages, and that therefore most Muslim marriages in the UK are registry office marriages (or are never legally formalised).

Personally, I prefer this separation of the legal from the religious or cultural aspects of marriage. In France, all marriages are performed at the Town Hall. That’s it. No options. You can have a priest bless the marriage afterwards if you like.

Disclaimer: I’m Irish, though fro an English background, and I follow UK news quite a bit, but I could be wrong on some of the finer details.


July 5th, 2010 | LINK

@Timothy (TRiG)

Very useful information, although incorrect on one detail – where civil partnership ceremonies can be conducted. This is from the official government website

“A civil marriage ceremony or civil partnership can take place in any register office in England or Wales, or at any venue approved by the local authority. These include stately homes and other prestigious buildings, hotels and restaurants.”

July 5th, 2010 | LINK

@Other Fred in the UK

I stand corrected. I think the disconnect happened between the Equalities Manifesto, which did mention it, and the Tories’ main election manifesto – published later, if I recall correctly – which did not. But you’re right, it was more than off-the-cuff.

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