Quakers welcome equal marriage consultation

Representatives from Quakers in Britain, Liberal Judaism and the Unitarian and Free Christian Churches welcomed the announcement last week of the government consultation to consider how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples.

Quakers in Britain, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism have long campaigned for equality in marriage because of their deeply held beliefs in equality and justice.

The three faith communities, recently joined by the Movement for Reform Judaism, are seeking a permissive law which allows religious liberty and have no wish to impose their understanding of what is right on those of a different understanding.

The ban on holding civil partnerships on religious premises was overturned by the Equality Act and the Unitarians were the first to register a religious place of worship, Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, for registration of civil partnerships after the new regulations came into effect in December.

Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christians said: “The hosting of civil partnerships in our churches and chapels is a step towards our ultimate goal of full equality for lesbian and gay people. Our stance refutes the simplistic argument that people of faith and rights for LGBT people are necessarily in conflict. Unitarians will look in detail at the consultation paper and respond on the basis of our long-term commitment to inclusion.”

Quakers are keen to respond to the consultation too. At their Yearly Meeting in York in 2009, Quakers in Britain sought a change in the law so that same sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite sex marriages are celebrated in Quaker meetings.

“Quakers believe marriage is a celebration of the committed union of two people who have found love for each other,” explained Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain. “We can see no reason, religious or otherwise, why marriage and civil partnership should not be equally available to all our couples who wish to register their commitment in Quaker meeting houses.”

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, co-chair of Liberal Judaism’s Rabbinic Conference, said: “Thankfully, morality in our society continues to progress. Some of society’s institutions, religions in particular, have a far slower rate of progression. Previously that might have been acceptable because religions held a unique ‘authority’ over their flocks. This is not so today. Where religion and civil society intersect, government should support those of faith who are at the vanguard of change, who do so with integrity out of religious and intellectual conscience, without compelling those who wish to currently demur. That is why today Liberal Judaism is seeking Equal Marriage.”

Two rings with the word equality on each

Equality. Photo: MebS09/flickr CC.

8 thoughts on “Quakers welcome equal marriage consultation

  1. I am afraid that I cannot agree with Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk. There is a major objection to having civil partnerships in meeting houses and that is QF&P 16.01. Until such time as the Government allows those partnerships, and it is to be hoped, Quaker marriages between same-gender partners, in marriages according to the usage of Friends, i.e. without officials conducting the activity, but allowing the couples to marry each other, it would be a breach of Quaker faith and practice for meeting houses to be used.

    • Paul Parker is quoted as saying, “We can see no reason, religious or otherwise, why marriage and civil partnership should not be equally available to all our couples who wish to register their commitment in Quaker meeting houses.”
      QF&P 16.01 is the famous statement from George Fox that “we marry no-one.”
      The problem with the regulations for civil partnerships is that,
      a. an official has to carry-out the procedure and,
      b. even though it may take place in a religious building, it must be in a non-religious room and may contain no religious activity at all.
      If we allow our meeting houses to be used this way in contradiction of Friends’ practice, then should marriage subsequently be allowed in religious buildings between same-gender couples, the same rules may well be applied.
      Quaker marriage is unique, and to my mind, our most powerful testimony to equality.
      I would not want it to be put at risk by legislation.
      Thus, I do see a reason why we should be very chary of agreeing to allow meeting houses to be used for non-religious civil partnership ceremonies.

      • Yes, we should be very clear (in our answers to the current government Consultation as well as generally) that marriage meetings for same sex couples must be identical to those for opposite sex couples. The idea of “being allowed” to host Civil Marriage ceremonies on religious premises with no religious references may seem farcical but it may not be an impossible outcome from a government that has as yet failed to challenge the major church’s ownership of “religious marriage”.

        I agree that the new regulations for civil partnerships on religious premises are almost pointless, apaart from giving a first official acknowledgement that lesbian and gay couples can be religious.

        If any couple really wnated to have their CP registration in a FMH then I don’t think there is really a tachnical problem. The registration simply involves the signing of the register, and could be in another room. If the Friend who holds the marriage register were willing to be “trained” & registered to CPs as well , then I think no outside official would be required. The associated Meeting for Worship is not subject to the “non-religious” requirement. But in fact there is so little difference from signing the registr at the registry office & then running round to the FMH for the Meeting that I wouldn’t be surprised if no-one ever bothers to go through the procedure and costs necessary to register the premises. However the moral point has been made that same sex couples can cross the threshhold of a religious building.

        • Yes, that is what happened at our meeting house: a Quaker lesbian couple had a civil partnership ceremony at the registry office and then came round to the meeting house for an hour-long Meeting for Worship; and the registering officer came too!

    • I would urge Friends to not sign the “Coalition for Marriage” petition (which opposes all recognition of same sex marriages). Many of its promoters are people who have opposed every advance in equal rights for lesbian and gay people and who have used the most hurtful and devisive arguments.

      Obviously it is not surprising that same sex partnerships have not been part of the traditional definiton of marriage given that it is only over the last 45 years that homosexuality has slowly been decriminalised.

      The government proposals are simply to allow civil marriage ceremonies and to continue to outlaw any religious solemnization. Thus they are hardly forcing anything upon those churches who are not yet ready to participate.

      We come out of a history where homosexual relationships had to be hidden away from the world and were actively undermined by society. I am sure we all know of past instances of oppression and suicide in our own lives.

      Surely it is now obvious to all that same sex partnerships are a normal and natural feature of humanity and occur in all times and all societies. As such they should be welcomed and recognized for what they are.

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