Quakers in Britain have highlighted concerns about the proposed implementation of the Equality Act 2010 relating to civil partnerships in religious premises, saying that they would be deterred by the cost of registering premises and bureaucratic hurdles such as procedures for layout and holding the ceremony and using an external registrar. “If religious premises are registered as places of worship, it seems over-elaborate, time consuming and expensive to duplicate this registration,” says their response to the government consultation on the issue. They suggest using their own existing registering officers who ensure that marriages are prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and legally valid. Quaker meetings do not have clergy.
Quakers in Britain recognise same sex unions as equal to opposite sex ones and have welcomed the opportunity to register premises for civil partnerships. The consultation followed the Equality Act 2010, which opened the door to civil partnerships being held on religious premises in England and Wales, if a faith group wishes. The act made clear that faith bodies could not be compelled to conduct civil partnerships against their conscience. The government promised to consult faith groups on how this would work.
In a written response to questions posed by the government Equalities Office Consultation Quakers say they would only wish to register civil partnerships in Meeting Houses for those who are Quakers or closely associated with Quakers. Meeting Houses would not be hired out for non-Quaker civil partnerships.
“We wish to see equality for marriage and civil partnerships,” writes Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain. In 1753 Quakers were given the right to conduct marriages in England and Wales. “We welcome and cherish this privilege,” he continues. “Our argument of principle is that, not only for religious reasons but also in the interests of creating equality and removing discrimination, we want as far as possible to apply to civil partnerships in Quaker Meeting Houses the same arrangements as the Marriage Act provides for opposite sex marriages in Quaker Meeting Houses.”
The consultation raises questions about consent, registration, process and premises.
In 2009 at their Yearly Meeting (the annual assembly with supreme decision-making authority for Quakers in Britain) Quakers recognised unions of same sex couples as marriages. “However”, explains Paul Parker, “we specify that such couples must have a civil partnership as we recognise such marriages are not recognised by the state as lawful at the present time. Thus we have encouraged and welcomed this ability to register civil partnerships on our own premises.”