Gay unions first need assembly approval: Church of England
December 5, 2011, 12:02 am TWN
LONDON--The Church of England will not permit gay civil partnership ceremonies on its premises without the express permission of its general assembly, it said Saturday.
New laws allowing same sex "weddings" to be conducted in places of worship in England and Wales come into force on Monday, though no religious group is obliged to host them.
William Fittall, secretary-general of the Church's general synod national assembly, set out the position in a letter to the body.
"In short, the position under the new arrangements is that no Church of England religious premises may become 'approved premises' for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to that effect," he wrote.
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Britain in December 2005, giving them similar rights to married heterosexual couples. However, the partnerships cannot legally be referred to as marriages.
The Church of England's legal office said its position did not amount to unlawful discrimination as marriage and civil partnerships are legally distinct.
"A gentlemen's outfitter is not required to supply women's clothes. A children's bookshop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults," it said in an accompanying letter.
"And a church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships."
The British government has drawn up plans to introduce same-sex civil marriages before the next election in 2015. A formal consultation will start in March.
The legal office letter said that if marriages and civil partnerships were no longer legally distinct concepts, as envisaged by the plans, "we would of course be in new territory.
"But that is a separate issue which would have to be addressed in the course of that new legislation."
The Church of England is the officially established state church and the mother church of the worldwide Anglican communion. It is the largest religious denomination in Britain.
The Church of England is to review its approach to same-sex relationships next year to clarify its position on an issue which has threatened to tear the Anglican communion apart.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Church of England leader and the Anglican communion's spiritual head, has struggled to maintain unity amid disagreements over the consecration of female bishops in Britain, and of openly gay bishops in the United States.