Government is pressing ahead with its plans, announced on 17 February 2011, to remove the legal barrier to civil partnerships being registered on religious premises. The ban stems from the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Approved Premises (Marriage and Civil Partnership) Regulations 2005.
The change would be made by commencing, through Regulations, Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010. This would enable those religious organizations that wish to do so to apply to the relevant local authority to host civil partnership registrations in their premises.
The legislation is framed as permissive. That is to say, its implementation would be on an entirely voluntary and opt in basis, also providing for consent to be obtained from faith bodies before an individual place of worship could apply to the local authority.
The latest development in the process came on 2 November 2011, when the Government Equalities Office published Summary of Responses: Civil Partnerships on Religious Premises – a Consultation (incorporating draft Regulations). It is available to download at:
The public consultation on the Government’s proposals ran from 31 March to 23 June 2011. It attracted 1,617 responses of which 343 were on the official pro forma (145 from organizations and 198 from individuals) and 1,274 were by email or letter.
Annex 2 of the summary of the consultation (pp. 38-62) comprises an Impact Assessment, now mandatory before any new piece of legislation can be considered. At pp. 45-6 and 55-6 there is an interesting but not entirely convincing discussion of the potential demand for civil partnerships in religious premises.
This analysis makes clear that fewer than 5% of places of worship in England and Wales are potentially likely to opt into the new arrangements, among which those of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Unitarians would be prominent. Major denominations such as the Anglicans and Catholics have indicated that they will not opt in.
In practice, the total number of premises that may wish to apply to be approved would be further limited to those where there is sufficient demand in the congregation from couples wanting to have their civil partnership registered in religious premises.
Government’s forecast is that between 25 and 532 premises would opt in and be licensed to host a civil partnership registration in any given year, the mid-point value being 280. The last figure would be equivalent to less than 1% of all places of worship in England and Wales.
The Government further predicts that the number of couples that would actually be able to hold a civil partnership registration in religious premises would range from 76 to 1,595, with a mid-point value of 835 per annum. This compares with 66,800 religious marriage ceremonies in England and Wales in 2008 (excluding Roman Catholic).
As we noted on 21 February last – http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=889 – public opinion is divided about the Government’s plans to permit civil partnerships to be registered in religious premises.