Religious civil partnerships are long overdue – Comment by Peter Tatchell

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“It is wonderful news that the government is planning to end the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships. The current prohibition on straight couples is arbitrary and unjust,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage!

“The next logical step is to end the ban on gay civil marriages. I urge the government to bring forward legislation to ensure marriage equality.

“Gay civil partnerships are not good enough. They are not equality. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. All couples – gay and heterosexual – should be able to get married in a civil ceremony in a register office.”

Commenting on the coalition’s plans to permit civil partnerships to have a religious content and to be held in places of worship, Mr Tatchell added:

“Allowing religious civil partnerships is long overdue. It was agreed by parliament nearly a year ago. There is no excuse for the government’s long delay in putting it into effect.

“Permitting faith organisations to make their own decision on whether to conduct same-sex civil partnerships is the democratic and decent thing to do.

“The current law prevents them from doing so, even if they want to.

“When the legal change comes into effect, no religious institution will be forced to perform civil partnerships. It will be up to them to decide. They will be able to agree or refuse.

“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 Judaism wish to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and should be allowed to do so.

“Following a change in the law, we expect that civil partnerships will be conducted by gay-affirmative religions, including the Unitarians, Quakers, liberal synagogues and some individual Anglican churches, where the priest agrees to do so.

“Our next goal is to secure marriage equality, to end the prohibition on lesbian and gay couples having a civil marriage in a registry office.

“Already, 61% of the British public believe that same-sex couples should be able to have a civil marriage, according to an opinion poll conducted by Populus in June 2009.

“The Equal Love campaign is challenging the twin bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships. Our aim is full equality for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Eight couples – four gay and four straight – filed a joint application in the European Court of Human Rights on 2 February, in a bid to end sexual orientation discrimination in civil marriage and civil partnership law.

“If we win in the European Court of Human Rights, the government will be required to change the law to allow gay partners to have a civil marriage and to allow heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership. It will ensure, at last, full equality in the laws governing relationship recognition and rights.

“I may disagree with religion and want a separation of religion from the state, but I object to religious same-sex couples being denied the option of having a civil partnership in their place of worship. If that is what they want, it is up to them. Exclusions from the law based on faith or sexuality are wrong,” said Mr Tatchell.