03 March 2010
Churches must be free from fear of lawsuits over civil partnerships, says Evangelical Alliance
The Evangelical Alliance is calling on the Government to guarantee that churches will genuinely be free to choose whether or not to hold civil partnerships without risk of future anti-discrimination lawsuits following last night's (March 2) unexpected amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act.
The Evangelical Alliance, which represents thousands of evangelical churches and denominations across the UK, acknowledged that the change to the Civil Partnerships Act - enabling churches to conduct civil partnerships on their premises if they so wish - is in keeping with the important principle of religious freedom.
While the Act does include a clause to allow churches to refuse to conduct civil partnerships, the Alliance is concerned anti-discrimination actions under the Equality Act will undermine this protection and leave churches confused about what they are allowed to do.
Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, said: "We understand the Lords' desire to allow a few liberal religious groups to have freedom to follow their consciences. But neither must other religious groups be forced to betray their consciences by facing lawsuits if they fail to allow a civil ceremony.
"This amendment hugely confuses the distinction between civil secular ceremonies and religious ceremonies, as well as the nature of marriage and has major implications for the UK's matrimonial laws which haven't begun to be thought through.
"On the same night, the Government refused to allow Catholic adoption agencies liberty to follow their consciences, but the two decisions are contradictory and inconsistent.
"We don't want to see in a few years' time churches ending up in the same boat, where they are forced to comply with anti-discrimination law or close down."
He added that the balance of freedoms was not fair for the adoption agencies.
"The Government therefore needs to make clear that no church will ever in the future be able to be successfully sued on grounds of discrimination for failing to allow a civil ceremony while it continues to permit religious marriages."
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Notes to Editors
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org.