Gay activists welcome vote on religious civil partnerships

LONDON (Reuters) - Gay rights activists on Wednesday welcomed a vote in the Lords to lift the ban on homosexuals and lesbians holding religious civil partnership ceremonies in churches.

A wedding cake figurine of a couple made up of two men is seen at the Gay Wedding show at the Town Hall in Manchester November 6, 2005. REUTERS/Ian Hodgson

But the Church of England said further work would be needed to secure greater clarity over the relationship between the relevant civil and religious authorities.

The amendment to the Equality Bill, yet to be approved by the Commons but unlikely to be changed significantly, was proposed by gay Labour peer Lord Alli and passed by 95 votes to 21.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell, of OutRage!, said the amendment was “the decent and democratic thing to do.”

He said he expected civil partnerships would be conducted by the Unitarians and Quakers, and some Anglican churches and liberal synagogues.

Critics believe the ruling may undermine marriage. The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Reverend David James, who voted against the amendment, warned of the dangers of “unintended consequences.”

He said there were no “practical difficulties” with existing legislation and warned that the change risked equating civil partnerships with marriage.

“The fundamental difficulty that many churches and faiths have is that we, like the government and the courts, have been quite clear ever since civil partnerships were introduced that they are not the same as marriage,” he said during the debate.

Rachel Lampard, spokeswoman for the Methodist Church, called the amendment “permissive” because churches would still be able to choose whether to hold such ceremonies. The legislation would not require them to do so, she said.

“The amendment allows churches the liberty to choose,” she said in a statement. “If the amendment forms part of the final Bill to be passed, there would still be many legal issues to be addressed.”

A spokeswoman for the Government Equalities Office said it was considering what steps it would take next.

Civil partnerships were made legal in England and Wales by the Civil Partnership Act of 2004.

Reporting by Jim Drury; Editing by Avril Ormsby