Senior bishops in the Lords have told The Times that they will support an amendment to the Equality Bill next month that will lift the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in religious premises. The amendment would remove the legislative prohibition on blessings of homosexual couples and open the door to the registration of civil partnerships in churches, synagogues, mosques and all other religious premises.

In a letter to The Times a group of Church of England clerics say today that religious denominations should be allowed to register civil partnerships on their premises if they wish. It would be up to individual denominations whether to offer civil partnership ceremonies.

The Church of England, which along with the wider Anglican Communion is divided over gay ordinations and same-sex blessings, will maintain its official ban. But if the legislative prohibition is lifted, as seems likely, the Church’s own ban is likely to be ignored by some clergy.

The Lords amendment is expected to be tabled in the next few days by Lord Alli, the Labour peer, who is openly gay. It is likely to be backed by the Conservatives and, significantly, the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Rev Timothy Stevens, who convenes the 26 bishops in the House.

This would in effect end any remaining distinction between civil partnerships and marriage and increase the pressure on the established Church to take a more liberal line on same-sex relationships.

The amendment is expected to be strongly opposed by conservative Christians. Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “What is being advanced as an issue of religious freedom today will be used to remove religious freedom in the future."


Benjamin Disraeli believed the Church of England to be “a part of our liberties, a part of our national character”. If it has any hope of continuing in that role, the Church — and the Government — must recognise that our liberties today should include the right of homosexuals to register the most important promise of their lives in a church.

COMMENT: For many years clergy in the Church of England followed the law of the land that stated they must marry anybody who was legally entitled to marry and married divorced people in church against the instructions of the House of Bishops. There was nothing their bishops could do to stop them if the priests were incumbents. So, I think Our Ruth may be right in her prophesy that Church of England incumbents will do the same for same sex couples if the law of the land states that same sex couples are legally entitled to marry.



  1. I hope Ruth is right, but I don’t think for a moment that this has anything to do with allowing clergy to do what they think is right. I think they feel safe that the clergy will stick to the official church position to deny blessing of civil partnerships.

    It seems to me like a brazen political attempt to save face after the recent shameful move to preserve the ability to practice employment discrimination.

    As in the Ekklesia article, Bishop Stevens faced strong arguments that, as with the Equality Bill to date, the bishops have often used their privileged and unaccountable positions in the UK’s legislature to defend the vested interests of the Established Church, as well as speaking out on other social issues.

    The latest move will be seen as a response to that kind of criticism, though it does not address the underlying constitutional question.

  2. Though, to be fair, these bishops have openly supported their gay clergy for years and have now had enough of their fellow bigots, oops, bishops and have broken collegiality to stand against them starting in a national newspaper. This is huge……It is a response, but not to cover their own actions, but to show that they are fed up at the rantings of other fellow bishops.

  3. To understand how important this is you have to understand the English situation regarding the holding of livings. Many of those parish priests lucky enough to be an incumbent, and those who are not but have a backbone, will follow the law of the land rather than the canons of the church. They did this with divorced people wanting to get married in church, so there is precedent. The bishops tend to turn a blind eye because they don’t want the publicity of a big church v. state argument in public and they were rather live with fudge than have the matter sorted out in court.

    Of course, we still have to get the government to change the law. But with the liberal Jews, Quakers, Unitarians and even just a handful of C. of E. bishops going for it big time, I have a feeling that this one is almost in the bag.