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Registration of Civil Partnerships, Same Sex Marriage: Consultation Analysis

This report presents the analysis of responses received in reaction to the Scottish Government consultation on same sex marriage and the religious registration of civil partnership. The consultation closed on 9th December 2011.


4 Views on the proposed introduction of religious civil partnership

4.1 Questions 1 to 9 of the consultation paper asked for views on the proposed introduction of religious civil partnership[22] in Scotland. As noted earlier, civil partnership has been available for a number of years, but at present its registration is purely secular and can have no religious component. The first nine questions within the consultation paper asked about the possibility of changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be registered through religious ceremonies and then sought views on some of the possible arrangements that could be put in place. This chapter discusses the views expressed at the first of these questions. The next chapter (Chapter 5) covers the remaining questions on religious civil partnership.

4.2 Although Questions 1 to 9 related specifically to religious civil partnership only, some respondents made reference to same sex marriage in the additional comments they made; this applied to around 1 in 10 of the comments made. For the purposes of the analysis, these comments have not been taken to apply to religious civil partnership[23], although all answers to the quantitative parts of the questions have been included in the analysis.

Question 1

Do you agree that legislation should be changed so that civil partnerships could be registered through religious ceremonies?

4.3 As the first and most fundamental question about allowing civil partnerships to be registered through religious ceremonies, Question 1 was included within most of the amended forms as well as some of the prepared letters received, but not within most of the postcards or petitions received. The number of comments received was also high with many of the comments made at Question 1 covering issues that could also have been applicable at some of the subsequent questions, but which tended to form part of a single, cohesive statement when made at Question 1. Table 4 below sets out the overall balance of opinion by area of residence on the proposal to allow civil partnerships to be registered through religious ceremonies.

Table 4 Question 1 by area of residence of respondents

All Respondents Scotland Rest of the UK Rest of the World
N % N % N % N %
Yes 17,597 39% 15,428 51% 1,657 12% 496 45%
No 23,241 52% 11,542 38% 11,292 83% 396 36%
Don't Know 3,963 9% 3,078 10% 673 5% 208 19%
Total 44,801 100% 30,048 100% 13,622 100% 1,100 100%

Potential maximum respondents = 45,668

Note: percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding
Note: Figures for Scotland, Rest of the UK and Rest of the World do not sum to All Respondents because country of residence could not be identified for a small number of respondents.

Table 5 Question 1 by type of response

Forms Prepared letters
N % N %
Yes 16,004 37% 1,593 100%
No 23,241 54% - -
Don't Know 3,963 9% - -
Total 43,208 100% 1,593 100%

Potential maximum respondents = 45,668

Note: percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding

4.4 Fifty two percent of those that responded to this question were against a change in the legislation to allow civil partnerships to be registered through religious ceremonies. The proportion of respondents that did not know whether they supported the change or not was relatively high at around 1 in 10. While no firm conclusions can be drawn as to why this may be, a number of respondents did acknowledge this to be a complex issue and one on which they could see both sides of the argument. A very substantial majority (more than 8 in 10) of those that answered 'Don't know' at Question 1 went on to support the introduction of same sex marriage.

4.5 As with many of the comments made at the principal question on same sex marriage (Question 10), those that did have a clear view on religious civil partnership often made further comments that were within the spirit of one of two broad positions; either that religious unions of the type proposed can only be between a man and a woman and anything else would be contrary to religious teachings; or that everyone should have the same opportunity to form a union irrespective of their sexual orientation and that this should include being able to have their union registered within their own belief system.

Reasons for opposing the proposed introduction of religious civil partnership

4.6 Many respondents' opposition to allowing religious civil partnerships stemmed from a fundamental objection to same sex relationships and a belief that partnership relationships should only be between one man and one woman. Many of these respondents identified themselves as members of the Christian faith and made it clear that their adherence to what they termed 'Biblical truth' meant they believed same sex relationships to be wrong. For some, this meant that anyone in a gay or lesbian relationship could not expect to have that union recognised by the Christian faith. Some suggested that the Scottish Government should repeal the 2004 legislation that brought civil partnerships into being.

4.7 Some respondents took a different stance, commenting that in their view the current arrangements offer all the necessary legal protections to same sex couples, but that there could not, and should not, be any religious registration of such a union. In fact, many commented that civil partnerships were always designed to be a purely civil - and hence secular - arrangement and were expressly set up to be separate to and distinct from marriage. Many were of the view that this distinction must be very clearly maintained.

4.8 Some respondents, including some of the main religious bodies that are currently authorised to undertake marriage ceremonies, stressed that religious organisations should have the freedom to decide which types of ceremonies they feel able to carry out and bless without any fear of what they saw as state interference. In particular, a number of respondents felt that religious ceremonies should only be for people who are not only adherents of the faith in which the ceremony is being conducted, but who also subscribe in full to the beliefs of that faith. A small number of respondents commented that this would apply equally to anyone in an opposite sex relationship, and that, for example, many denominations do not feel able to allow divorced people to get remarried through a religious ceremony: these respondents were often of the view that the option for opposite sex couples in this situation would be a civil ceremony, and that this should also apply to same sex couples. A number of respondents on both sides of the debate acknowledged that same sex couples can already have a blessing, or some kind of affirmation of their civil partnership, if they are able to find a celebrant who is willing to perform the ceremony. A number of those opposed to the introduction of religious civil partnership felt this should be sufficient.

4.9 Many respondents, including a number of group respondents, said that when the civil partnership legislation was being prepared it was indicated that marriage would continue to be between a man and a woman. Some respondents suggested that the current proposals went against assurances that were given at the time. This also made some respondents think that irrespective of any assurances given this time around, proponents of further changes to marriage legislation (such as polygamy) would find themselves pushing at an open door.

4.10 There were two main concerns. The first was a further blurring of the lines between civil partnership and marriage, and a concern that if Scotland were to introduce a combination of same sex religious civil partnership and same sex civil marriage it would only be a matter of time before a move was made towards the same sex religious marriage which some particularly opposed. The other major concern expressed was that although the current proposals are permissive - essentially that religious bodies would be able rather than required to conduct religious civil partnerships - people feared that permissive proposals could quickly change to demand certain action. Some respondents questioned whether the Scottish Government, or any legislation that was enacted, would ever be able to protect religious bodies and individual celebrants from any subsequent legal challenge.

4.11 A number of respondents suggested it was just a matter of time before someone made a legal challenge through the courts with the aim of requiring a religious body to register their civil partnership, and that the outcome of that challenge could not be guaranteed. Whilst generally opposed to any change, some of the main religious bodies called for the strongest of legal safeguards to protect clergy should the proposals go ahead, and many other respondents also stressed that it would be vital to protect freedom of belief and conscience in Scotland. A number of respondents cited examples of people either being subject to prosecution, or in some other way penalised, because they wished to remain true to their religious principles within either a work or business context. A small number of respondents who identified themselves as religious celebrants were concerned that they themselves could be subject to legal challenge - and by extension compromised religious freedom - should the changes go ahead. Some of these celebrants felt they would have no choice but to resign their positions in order to avoid being placed in such a situation.

4.12 Finally, a number of respondents, including some of the religious bodies that responded to the consultation, commented that the issue of religious civil partnerships would be a very divisive one within some of Scotland's major religious groups. Concerns were expressed for the unity and strength of these groups and about the impact division could have on both the individual members of that body and on Scottish society more widely.

Reasons for supporting the proposed introduction of religious civil partnership

4.13 Turning now to consider the main arguments put forward by those that supported the introduction of religious civil partnerships, it was clear that, for some, their support for the proposed changes was about recognising that gay and lesbian people may hold sincere religious convictions and that they should be able to have an important event such as the registering of a civil partnership through a ceremony reflecting their faith. A small number of respondents of faith explained that, for them, to do otherwise would mean that an essential dimension - namely the dimension of faith - would be missing from one of the most significant events in their lives. A number of respondents did recognise that it might be possible to have a religious blessing of a civil partnership, but felt this did not have the same significance attached to it, either by they themselves or by society more widely.

4.14 In essence, some respondents took the view that this is an issue of religious freedom with a few going on to suggest that this applies not only to those individuals who would like to have a religious civil partnership, but also to the celebrants and religious bodies that would wish to carry them out. However, some respondents also stressed that the religious freedoms of those that would not wish to be involved must also be respected and protected.

4.15 From a pragmatic stand point, a small number of respondents suggested that religious civil partnership might be acceptable to some bodies that would not support same sex marriage, and hence its introduction had the potential to widen the number of religious bodies that were prepared to offer a ceremony to those wanting their civil partnership registered within their faith community.

4.16 For many others, however, the issue was less about personal faith than about a commitment to the basic principle that there should be equality in relationships, and that Scotland should move towards a situation in which there are not same sex or opposite sex legislative arrangements, but simply civil partnership or marriage. This led some to suggest (either at Question 1 or elsewhere) that the arrangements should also be changed to allow for opposite sex civil partnership. This particular issue will be discussed further at Question 19.

4.17 From the same basic 'equalising' starting point, others concluded that religious civil partnership, along with civil partnership more generally, remains a second-class arrangement, that the current provisions have served their purpose, and that the time has come to abolish civil partnership and replace it with same sex marriage. A number of respondents, whilst supporting the introduction of same sex marriage, nevertheless felt that civil partnerships should remain as the purely secular, legal arrangement they were always designed to be and which some people find an entirely satisfactory option.

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