UK to let gays have church civil ceremonies

Last Updated: Feb 18, 2011, 10:37 AM IST

London: In Britain, gay couples may get a chance to go to the chapel and get married, almost. The British government has announced plans to allow gay couples to hold civil partnership ceremonies in houses of worship, a move gay rights activists say is a step in the right direction towards marriage, but falls short of affording full equal rights.

The government stressed, however, that houses of worship can opt out if they wish. Although marriage and civil partnership are already similar under British law, civil
partnership ceremonies are currently not allowed to have religious references, are banned from places of worship, and must take place in a public building overseen by a government registrar.

The new rules, being introduced under British equality laws, will give same-sex couples the chance to hold civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings, an option that
did not exist for Mark Harrison and his partner, who wore traditional tailcoats to their ceremony at a north London town hall in May 2009.

Harrison described himself as not religious "at all," but said its "about having the option", all couples he knows who`ve married in churches are straight and not religious.

"It`s the tradition and the dream to have a beautiful church wedding," he said. "If straight couples have that opportunity and want to get married in a church despite not
being religious then it should be the same for everyone."

In Britain, only heterosexual couples can get married, while civil partnership is available only to same-sex couples.

Activists argue both should be open to all couples. The change is a first step toward making civil partnerships more equal to marriages and there may be further
changes to the law in this direction, the Home Office said.

Like several gay rights groups, Harrison questioned why the authorities didn`t take things a step further by giving gay marriage the green light.

"Any step closer to equality is always a good thing but I`m unsure as to why they don`t go the whole hog."

Activists, such as Peter Tatchell, have welcomed the government`s move, but called the government`s decision to leave further changes toward marriage rights up for discussion
‘spineless.’

"The government could have taken a bold new initiative to ensure that both straight and gay couples have the option of marriage," said Tatchell, who coordinates the Equal Love
campaign, which seeks to end what it calls sexual orientation discrimination in both civil marriage and civil partnership law.

Several religious affiliations, including the Catholic Church and British Muslim groups, have said they are strongly opposed to same sex unions of any kind, and the government
stressed that churches can opt out if they wish to.

PTI