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British Anglicans OK church ceremonies for same-sex couples
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British Anglicans OK church ceremonies for same-sex couples

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Anglican bishops in Britain's House of Lords told The Times newspaper that they will support a proposal to allow same-sex civil union ceremonies in British churches.

While it stops short of calling such unions "marriages," the amendment to the Labor Party's Equality Bill removes one of the last remaining differences between civil unions and marriages in British law.

The House of Lords is the upper house of Britain's parliament. Church of England bishops are members by virtue of their church offices.

Unlike the US Senate, the Lords can delay legislation proposed by the governing political party, but cannot kill it.

The amendment on same-sex unions was proposed by British Quakers and is strongly supported by Unitarians and Liberal Jewish congregations.

Openly Gay Labor peer Lord Alli is expected to reintroduce the amendment in the coming week.

When he originally proposed it in January, it was opposed by the Anglican Bishops of Winchester and Chichester, and Lord Alli withdrew it from consideration.

In the intervening time, the Church of England held a General Synod at which the Archbishop of Canterbury apologized to LGBT Anglicans for seeming to devalue their contributions to the church.

The synod also voted to give equal pension benefits to same-sex partners of Gay and Lesbian clergy.

Lord Alli's amendment now seems likely to be backed by Conservative Lords and - significantly - by Bishop of Leicester Timothy Stevens, who chairs the bishops' caucus in the House of Lords.

The bishops' announcement came in the form of a letter to The Times signed by senior church officials including the Bishop of Salisbury, the Dean of Southwark, and four retired bishops.

While the support of senior Church of England bishops makes passage of the amendment seem very likely, it continues to be opposed by many religious people, including conservative Anglicans.

Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, told The Times, "Homosexual activists have made clear that this is not the end. It is a step towards forcing churches to conduct same-sex unions that would go against their beliefs."

"Changing the law will further blur the distinction between marriage and what the Government put forward as a purely secular ceremony," she said.

Passage of Lord Alli's amendment would be a significant change in British law, but religious denominations would be allowed to offer civil union ceremonies only if they wish to do so. Each denomination would retain the right to choose whether or not to perform such ceremonies.

The Equality Bill now being debated in parliament requires equal treatment in employment as well as private and public services, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, age, or disability. The bill is intended to codify and update existing British civil rights laws, and to bring them in line with European Union Equal Treatment Directives.

It goes beyond ENDA and other similar civil rights legislation in the US, in that it aims at wage equality, and allows for preferences and quotas in public contracts.

The Equality Bill was introduced by Labor Party Deputy Leader and noted British feminist Harriet Harmon.

Anglican leaders had expressed reservations about the bill because they feared it would require their churches to hire Gay and Lesbian clergy and perform same-sex marriages.

Ordination of Gay and Lesbian clergy remains controversial in the Anglican church, and very conservative Anglicans even oppose ordination of women.

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