MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — Gay and lesbian Catholics are opposed to the automatic conversion of civil partnerships into same-sex marriages, said the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark told the British government that many gay Catholics held the view of the church that marriage is lifelong, exclusive union between a man and a woman, and that they did not want their own partnerships to be redefined.

His comments came in response to the government’s Civil Partnership Review, launched in January to consider whether last year’s legalization of same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom has rendered obsolete a law granting legal recognition to same-sex unions.


The review invited submissions on the question of whether all civil partnerships made under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 should be abolished and converted wholesale into marriages recognized by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

But Archbishop Smith, vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a submission from the bishops that such a move would strip some gay Catholics of civil rights.

“There are those lesbian and gay Catholics who have entered into civil partnerships in order to secure important and necessary legal rights, but who do not wish either to become married in the eyes of the state, or to have their civil partnership automatically ‘converted’ into a marriage,” said Archbishop Smith, chairman of the bishops’ Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.

“To remove the legal right of these same-sex couples, who do not wish to ‘marry,’ to enter into a civil partnership would mean removing legal rights for such people in future,” he said in the written submission.

“The removal of the option for same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships could cause great harm to those Catholics and others,” he said.

Archbishop Smith said the bishops were therefore “opposed to any automatic conversion of civil partnerships into same-sex marriages.”

“The two realities were established differently in law with distinct meanings,” he continued. “Same-sex couples who entered into civil partnerships may not wish to have their relationship labelled in this way.”

The review will also consider the possibilities of retaining civil partnerships in their present state, whether to extend them to include heterosexual couples and also whether to halt them for all couples, while continuing to recognize those that already exist.