Same-sex couples will be allowed to hold civil partnership ceremonies in houses of worship in England and Wales, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone announced in the U.K. Parliament on Nov. 2.
"The government is advancing equality for LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths. No religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward," she said.
Marriage between people of the same gender currently is not legal in the United Kingdom. Civil partnerships were legalized in the United Kingdom by the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, which became law in December 2005. The Church of England currently makes no provisions for civil partnership ceremonies in its churches, although some clergy are believed to perform blessings at their discretion
It is estimated that about 1,500 civil partnership ceremonies a year would take place in religious settings once the ban is lifted. There are presently around 5,500 civil partnerships every year.
Liberal Jewish groups, Quakers and other religious denominations have lobbied for the right to host ceremonies with religious readings and hymns. But the Church of England insists it will not bless same-sex couples.
"The House of Bishops' statement of July 2005 made it clear that the Church of England should not provide services of blessings for those who register civil partnerships and that remains the position. The Church of England has no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in its churches," said Steve Jenkins, a spokesman for the church.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell said, "This is a welcome but very limited reform. Civil partnerships will be able to take place in religious premises but the ban on religious same-sex marriages will remain. The government's policy is inconsistent."
He added, "We [members of the Equal Love campaign] believe religious organizations should be permitted by law to perform both same-sex religious marriages and same-sex civil partnerships, if they wish to do so."