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article imageReligious group wants wide-ranging reform of marriage law

By Andrew John     Feb 25, 2010 in Lifestyle
A UK religious think tank wants wide-ranging reform of marriage law. The call follows a move to legally recognise same-sex partnership ceremonies carried out by religious groups and institutions – currently not allowed under British law.
Legal change needs to go much further to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society, says Ekklesia. It is also necessary to satisfy the diversity of religious convictions around ideas of marriage.
Ekklesia has welcomed an amendment to the Equality Bill, to be debated by the House of Lords on 2 March, which would end the prohibition on the use of religious language and religious premises in civil partnership ceremonies.
But the amendment highlights ongoing anomalies and inequalities in marriage law, says the think tank. “Same-sex partnerships still cannot be described in law as marriage. Different groups have different freedoms to perform marriage and civil partnership ceremonies.”
Ekklesia is suggesting that the best way to deal with the growing complexity is a clearer distinction between the legal elements on the one hand, and religious and communal elements on the other.
The ideas were originally set out in a 2006 report “What Future for Marriage?”, which predicted that the complexities would increase further. Under the think tank’s proposals, couples would be free to choose what kind of ceremony they required, in accordance with their religious or other beliefs. They would also then be free to register that relationship in law, according to the commitment that they were making.
Symon Hill, co-director of Ekklesia, said: “An overhaul of marriage law is urgently required to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society. It is time for a legal change that allows people to enter into marriages or partnerships as a public, communal, and if important to them, a religious commitment, with legal registration being a separate process.
“Not only is this a pragmatic necessity, but it is the best way forward in finding common ground between religious people who take differing positions on issues of sexuality and marriage. Marriage and civil partnerships will always be public acts. But religions do not require them to be recognised in a certain way in law for them to have validity. Within the Christian tradition for example, marriage is based on the idea of covenant, not contract.”
Chris Campbell, an elder at Maidenhead United Reformed Church, who is in a same-sex relationship with a Roman Catholic man, said: “As a committed Christian couple, the idea of a civil partnership – in which no mention of God can be made – feels just like another legal formality. I want God to be at the heart of our marriage, just as he’s been at the heart of our relationship. With the prospect of change to the law, Carl and I are one step closer to being married in a way that is very meaningful for us.”
This week, the UK’s Green Party became the only political party so far to make this a part of official policy. Later, bishops in the country’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, where 26 bishops are allowed to sit as of right, also called for religious premises and language to be used for same-sex ceremonies where the organisations themselves agreed.
More about Same-sex marriage, Gay marriage, Sexuality, LGBT, Ekklesia
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