What is going on in the Bishops’ comments on Civil Partnerships?

Jan 27, 2020 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

On Thursday last week, the House of Bishops issues a ‘pastoral statement’ on the status of Civil Partnerships, and it cause something of a stir. What was it about? Why was it needed? And why did it cause a commotion?

The background to this discussion begins in 2004. The Government passed the Civil Partnership Act, which created a form of relationship that looked very similar to marriage, but which the Labour Government of the time insisted was not marriage. It is worth asking why they did this; there is no really plausible answer other than that it was a way in introduce same-sex marriage without introducing something called same-sex marriage. This is confirmed by the inclusion of language of ‘prohibited relationships’ (consanguinity) based on marriage, so that (against campaigning) the Government refused to allow siblings to enter CPs. At the time the Conservative party was split on this, partly on the basis of personal convictions, and partly because, at the time, the notion of gay marriage was hardly a vote winner. How quickly times change!

The House of Bishops was now put in a difficult position. Would the Church’s teaching on marriage as the context for sexual relationships allow recognition of CPs? Since CPs were specifically designed, in two significant ways (lack of requirement of public vows, and no explicit reference to the relationship being conjugal) to not look like marriage, then there could be no identification and this is highlighted in their 2005 statement on the matter. In particular, since CPs could, in theory, involve a platonic relationship, then there was no reason in principle that two people of the same sex should not form a CP, including clergy. The bishops were here making a call as to whether they believed what the Government said, against all the evidence, or called their bluff and highlighted the deception. Andrew Goddard, in his Grove booklet Friends, Partners or Spouses?, summed up the problem:

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