In part, this reflects the fact that the Church of England (CoE, cousin of our Episcopal Church) is an established church: that is, a state religion. And the CofE hasn't really grappled with the gay issue, preferring to keep its numerous homos deep in the closet. (The problem with the Americans isn't that they ordained a gay bishop. It's that they ordained an HONEST gay bishop. But I digress....)
Because it is Established, the CofE has voting rights in the House of Lords, where the Bishops have been vigorously voting against bills that block anti-gay discriminatory hiring. And it is thanks to those bishops that Civil Partnerships cannot by law be conducted in a church.
The latest is a spirited argument (conducted as so many good British arguments are, in the letters to the Times) pointing out that several faith groups have no problem with effectively marrying gay people, and the current prohibition inhibits THEIR religious freedom.This was signed by members of many different faiths, including a number of CoE bishops.
And Writing in the Guardian, the retired Bp of Oxford says,
Some Church of England bishops, who were hardly enthusiastic about civil partnerships in the first place, fear that if this is allowed it would blur the distinction them and marriage. But this is a fundamental issue of religious freedom. On what grounds can any body claim religious freedom for itself but deny it to others? The bishops may or may not approve of what Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians want, but that is beside the point. What these bodies want would harm no one, and it accords with their deepest religious convictions. Religious freedom is indivisible.Would that the CofE, the Roman Catholics, or the Mormons understand this: their freedom does not, and cannot, depend on denying freedom to someone else.
And the wide provision of legal protections is having an effect in the UK:
Fewer than a third of the population believe homosexuality is wrong, compared with two thirds in 1980s, according to the latest survey of British Social Attitudes.....
Almost two thirds (61 per cent) want gay couples to be able to marry, just like the rest of the population, not just have civil partnerships, while 68 per cent of the public back “full equal rights” for gay men and lesbians, suggesting that the Church, which opposes the ordination of gay priests, is out of touch with public opinion.
Now, the House of Lords has passed the bill allowing civil partnerships to be held in churches. Reported in the London Times:
The move will result in an amendment to the Equalities Bill which would allow, though not compel, religious organisations to host civil partnerships. Religious language would also be permitted within the ceremonies.So, rather than the government explicitly excluding religion from gay couples, they will be allowed, if their church agrees, to invite God to the wedding.