Law and religion round-up – 4th July

The Methodist Church and same-sex marriage

On Wednesday, the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church voted by 254 to 46 to adopt a provisional resolution on same-sex marriages conducted on Methodist premises or by Methodist office-holders.

A report on marriage and relationships, God in Love Unites Us, which had been received by the Conference in 2019 recommended the adoption of a new Standing Order, as follows:

011B Divorce, Remarriage, Same-sex Marriage and Respect for Conscience

(1) Divorce in a court of the land, and matters of sex or gender, do not of themselves prevent a person being married in any Methodist place of worship.

(2) Under no circumstances does the Conference require any person authorised to conduct marriages who is subject to the discipline of the Church as a minister, probationer, officer or member to officiate at or participate in the marriage of a particular couple, should it be contrary to the dictates of his or her conscience to do so.

(3) A minister, probationer or member who is duly authorised to conduct marriages but who for reasons of conscience will never officiate at the marriages of couples in particular circumstances, shall refer such couples to an authorised colleague who is not so prevented. A couple who seek to be married in Methodist premises that are not appropriately registered for such purposes shall be referred to the persons responsible for the conduct of marriages at ones that are so registered, preferably in the same Circuit.

(4) The Methodist Church opposes discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender or race. Accordingly, if a couple is seeking to be married in a Methodist place of worship no objection to the performance by a particular minister, probationer or member of any duty in respect of their proposed marriage shall be entertained on such a ground. No minister, probationer or member shall perform the relevant duty or duties in place of the other person concerned or otherwise assist the couple to make the objection effective.”

District Synods had been asked to consider the provisional resolutions and report back to Conference, but the 2020 Conference had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s Conference received a report on the results of the local consultation which showed that 29 of the 30 Synods confirmed support for the provisional resolutions. The BBC reports that “Church officials hope the first same-sex weddings will take place in the autumn”.

Update: The report of the session at which the resolution, as amended, was agreed is available here.

Opposite-sex civil partnerships in Scotland

As readers will be aware, the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 28 July 2020. Under The Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 (Commencement No. 3, Saving and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2021, couples have been able to submit their notice of intention to enter a mixed-sex civil partnership from 1 June, with a 28-day notice period – which means that the first such civil partnerships could be registered from 30 June.

Humanist weddings in England and Wales

In answer to two Parliamentary Questions from Clive Lewis (Lab, Norwich South) and Daisy Cooper (Lib Dem, St Albans), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Alex Chalk, replied as follows:

“A Law Commission report due later this year is expected to present options for wholesale reform to the law governing marriage ceremonies, which the Government will consider carefully. Options being explored by the Law Commission include offering couples greater flexibility to form their own ceremonies, allowing the ceremony to take place in a much broader range of locations, and powers to hold weddings remotely in a national emergency. The Government will decide on provision for non-religious belief marriage on the basis of the Law Commission’s recommendations.”

The Church of England and clergy discipline

On 1 July, the Church Times carried an article entitled The Lambeth Working Group has lost its way on CDM reform. The Rt Worshipful Peter Collier QC, Vicar-General of York and Chair of the Ecclesiastical Law Society working group on the CDM, is quoted as saying that the Lambeth Working Group on the CDM seems to have lost its way and gone backwards – in December 2020 it distinguished between serious complaints and less serious complaints, but the focus has now shifted to the difference between a complaint and misconduct.

The proposals developed by the Ecclesiastical Law Society working party sought to separate serious misconduct from all other issues, including what might be grievances and misconduct that is less than serious. Collier states:

“I appreciated the tribute to our “incredibly detailed and thoughtful” report, but I don’t understand how we can be said to have assisted in shaping their proposals when they appear to have rejected the fundamental thrust of what we were saying.

I was disappointed that we never sat down with them to thrash through the differences between us. I do think that engagement with our group, composed of people with wide-ranging experience of actually dealing with these cases across their very wide spectrum, would have helped them to formulate better proposals.”

A “take note” debate is scheduled for General Synod on the afternoon of Sunday 11 July.

Congregational singing in England

In answer to a Parliamentary Question from Theresa Villiers (Con, Chipping Barnet) on relaxing the COVID-19 restrictions to permit congregations to sing hymns in churches, Eddie Hughes, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, said this:

“Places of worship play an important role in providing spiritual leadership and bringing communities together, however, their communal nature makes them particularly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus.

Congregational singing is under restrictions due to the increased risk of transmission through small droplets and aerosols. This means that those partaking in these activities are at higher risk of transmitting the virus and thus, spreading infection even if the individual is vaccinated.

On 17 May we entered step 3 on the Prime Minister’s roadmap, reintroducing indoor singing in a place of worship for a performance or rehearsal, for a group of up to 6 amateur signers. This is in line with all amateur choirs and singing groups. Outdoors, the congregation may join in with singing in multiple groups of up to 30. Congregation members should continue to follow social distancing rules.

There are currently no plans to allow congregational singing indoors, with or without masks, before Step 4 of the roadmap in England, which would be no earlier than 19 July.”

COVID-19 and charity AGMs

The Charity Commission has updated its Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for the charity sector in England & Wales in relation to Annual General Meetings disrupted by the pandemic. Specifically:

“We recognise that for some charities virtual meetings are not a viable solution, nor are socially distanced face-to-face meetings. In such instances, trustees may consider they have no choice but to cancel or postpone their AGMs and other critical meetings.

If you do consider such a decision is necessary, you should follow any rules in your charity’s governing document that allow for postponement, adjournment or cancellation. If there are no such rules, but you decide that this is still the best course of action for your charity in the current circumstances, you should record the reasons for this decision to demonstrate good governance of your charity. This is particularly important if it is not possible to hold your AGM which may make it difficult for you to finalise your annual reports and accounts.”

Data transfer arrangements with the EU

The European Commission has adopted an adequacy decision for the UK under the General Data Protection Regulation. This means that personal data can now flow freely from the EU to the UK because it benefits from an equivalent level of protection to that guaranteed under EU law. The decision includes a “sunset clause” – apparently for the first time – under which it will automatically expire 4 years after its entry into force. After that period, the EU may renew the adequacy findings if the UK continues to ensure an adequate level of data protection.

Jersey may legalise assisted dying

It is likely that Jersey will legalise assisted dying after a citizens’ jury convened on the issue voted with 78 per cent in favour of a change in the law. Its recommendations will be followed by a report due to be published in September. The Council of Ministers will then lodge a proposition with the States Assembly seeking agreement on legalisation.  The Jersey Evening News has a report, here. [With thanks to Scottish Legal News.]

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