Bishop backs civil partnerships

AN East Anglian bishop has given his support to civil partnerships - dubbed gay marriages - and said the new legislation “corrected an injustice” to gay people.

By John Howard

AN East Anglian bishop has given his support to civil partnerships - dubbed gay marriages - and said the new legislation “corrected an injustice” to gay people.

The Rt Rev Richard Lewis, bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, spoke out on the issue of homosexuality in a frank end of year interview with the East Anglian Daily Times, and said some of the best clergy in Suffolk were gay.

His comments risk the wrath of evangelical Christians, who insist that same-sex couples should not have the same rights as traditionally-married couples.

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Bishop Richard used the Christmas interview to call for people to concentrate on the positive aspects of relationships, both gay and straight.

He also spoke of his belief that the Church needed homosexuals within its ranks to “relate to the world at large”.

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He said: “Instead of bickering about what is thought to be wrong in terms of human relationships, for men and women and same sex couples, it would be good if there was some affirmation of the things that are good and worth celebrating.

“Gay people are very important part of the Church and the Church actually needs them if it is to understand and relate to the world at large.

“The gay clergy who serve this diocese are amongst some of the best we have and I am daily thankful for them.”

Gay marriage is legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada. Britain has not gone that far, but civil partnerships, the first of which took came into effect this month, are now marriage in all but name, granting legal rights virtually identical to those enjoyed by married couples.

The new legislation creates a new legal relationship of civil partnership, which two people of the same sex can form by signing a registration document. It gives same-sex couple parity of treatment in a wide range of legal matters to opposite-sex couples who marry.

“I welcome the introduction of civil partnership legislation, I think it corrects an injustice. There's a real sense of putting something right and I welcome that,” said the bishop.

“But the use of language is pretty important, the use of the word 'marriage' is not helpful and most gay people I know would also say that it is not terribly helpful.

“The truth is there are all kinds of reasons for a civil partnership and using the word like marriage does not help, as it assumes it is a sexual relationship. People can be in a committed, loving relationship and not a sexual one.

“I support the civil partnerships because it does affirm a human relationship and gives rights in terms of next of kin, financially, that was not possible before.

“The thing that really sticks in the throats of a number of people is coming to terms with the fact that, for many gay people, entering into civil partnerships is about a long-term committed and loving relationship.

“Whether people find that understandable or acceptable actually is their problem, (although) people must be disturbed and upset, and I understand that.”

The bishop also used the interview to insist the Church should also be prepared to speak out more, particularly on issues such as the use of torture.

“It's not about being soft on terrorism. We have kidnap and torture by so-called cultured, civilised governments,” he said.

“It's wrong and in the long-term, gives more of an excuse for extremism on both sides. Terrorism is never one-sided.”

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