British Bishop to Gay Couples: Not in My Churches, You Don’t!
The British government is considering allowing gay and lesbian couples to celebrate their civil partnerships--the UK’s version of civil unions--in houses of worship, an option not currently open to same-sex families under the law. But a British Anglican bishop has a message for gays and lesbians looking to formalize their commitments to one another: they’re not welcome to celebrate their devotion in any of the churches under his purview.
The Bishop of Blackburn, Nicholas Reade, declared the government had no business even thinking about letting gays and lesbians tie the knot in a religious setting, reported online local news resource The Citizen on Feb. 15.
"I find it quite hard to understand why the government should think it can interfere with the teachings of the church," Reade told the media, citing something many religious leaders in America deny: the separation of religion and government. "Church and state are not the same thing, and I am very surprise that without any consultation with the church the government is making such a sweeping statement."
Another distinction the bishop draws is the legality of a civil partnership and the religious validity of a marriage between two persons of the same gender. "There is a very big distinction between a civil partnership and a so-called gay marriage," Reade told the press. "As far as the church is concerned you can only have a marriage between a man and a woman.
"When I marry people in church we talk about the husband and wife, and marriage being the foundation of family life," the bishop went on. "I would not be able to give my consent to a church being used for a gay marriage."
The article said that the bishop’s declaration was in line with the official position of the Church of England, which has said that it will not permit same-sex ceremonies to take place in its houses of worship.
The bishop’s purview extends to all Anglican churches in East Lancashire.
GLBT advocacy groups have encouraged the change in policy. "This is a very important step forward for many lesbian and gay people of faith and an important issue of religious freedom," said Stonewall leader Ben Summerskill. "It will, we believe, serve as a significant step forward towards extending the legal form of marriage to gay people."
A vote to rescind the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in houses of worship took place a year ago in Britain’s House of Lords and passed 95-21. At the time, Peter Tatchell, the leader of OutRage!, issued a statement on the vote, calling it "another advance for gay equality and religious freedom," a press release from the group said.
"Allowing faith organizations to make their own decisions on whether to conduct same-sex civil partnerships is the democratic and decent thing to do," Tatchell continued. "By banning religious civil partnerships, the current law is denying religious bodies the right to treat gay couples equally. It is forcing them to discriminate, even when many of them do not want to.
"The Quakers, Unitarians, Metropolitan Community Church and liberal synagogues wish to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and should be allowed to do so," Tatchell pointed out, going on to note that, "Following a change in the law, we expect civil partnerships will be conducted by gay-affirmative religions, including the Unitarians and Quakers, and some Anglican churches and liberal synagogues."
Even as lawmakers are moving toward true family parity, opinion polls show that the country is ready to embrace gay and lesbian families as fully equal to heterosexual unions. An article from June 27, 2009, in UK newspaper The Times showed that a solid majority--61%--were in favor of full and equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian families.
Moreover, in stark contrast to the United States, where marriage equality has been rescinded in two states after anti-gay activists aired ads claiming that children would be taught about gay families in school, a majority in the U.K.--51%--approve of students learning about non-heterosexual households.
Moreover, an even greater majority--68%--says that GLBTs should have "full equal rights" that put them on the same footing in society and before the law.