For the first time in England and Wales, a Manchester chapel has been awarded a licence to hold civil and religious ceremonies between same-sex couples.
Following a new law effective since December 2011 that allows civil partnerships to be hosted on religious premises, the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel is the first in England and Wales to be granted the civil partnership licence.
As the news spread across Manchester and the country, Rev Jane Barraclough, minister of Cross Street Chapel, received an ‘overwhelmingly positive’ response from the public.
“The congregation is celebrating. This decision went through on the nod for us, it was not in the slightest bit controversial. It is just a logical extension of who we are and what we do,” said Rev Barraclough.
She said that the LGBT community has always been welcome in her chapel and that the licence fulfils a basic human right.
In contrast to the Church of England that refused to hold civil partnership ceremonies in its churches, the Unitarian Church that the Manchester Cross Street Chapel is part of is open to all, regardless of sex, race, colour or sexual orientation.
Addressing the LGBT community in Manchester, Rev Barraclough said: “We fight homophobia by being a completely inclusive religious community, with open and out LGBT ministers in our midst. We are here always, just being us. No drama.”
As the law that enabled religious same-sex couples to formalise their relationship in an approved place of worship came into force in December, the Church of England said it would not host civil ceremonies, just as a ‘gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women's clothes’.
The Church’s stance angered gay right activists across the country and prompted a letter by the clergy calling for a reverse of the ban.
In response to the recent critics by the Church of England and the Catholic Church of Scotland on gay marriages and civil partnerships, Rev Barraclough said: “I am privileged to live in a liberal religious community and, truth be told, I forget how much hatred is being peddled out there in the name of religion. It gives me the chills.
“It makes me angry because it all gives fuel to secular fundamentalists who are delighted to represent all religious people as dangerous and crazy. Not in my name, not in our name.”
Later this week: MM interview Rev Barraclough.