Church embraces equality

Hugh Barlow with Margaret Pilkington,Marian Brown and Elizabeth Barlow outside Sidmouth Unitarian ch

Hugh Barlow with Margaret Pilkington,Marian Brown and Elizabeth Barlow outside Sidmouth Unitarian church. Ref shs 9502-26-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

A Sidmouth chapel has led the way to become the first church in Devon to offer same-sex marriages.

Persistence paid off through an application process that has taken a year – but the wait cost the Unitarian Church its first booking.

The progressive congregation has joined a small, but growing number of churches in taking advantage of the new legislation, which has divided traditionalists.

Hugh Barlow, the chairman of the congregation, said: “We do not seek publicity in itself, but we want to be available to same-sex couples who want a personally-tailored service in a church setting – something which has hitherto been denied them.

“The whole congregation has always been opposed to all forms of discrimination, and specifically discrimination against gay people.

“Persistence has paid off and we are now fully registered - apparently the first church in Devon to be so.”

He added: “Our only regret is that a couple who had arranged to get married here in August appear to have given up on getting married in Devon.”

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Church leaders had expressed an interest a year ago, but the application process was long, drawn out and dealt with by an ‘overloaded’ General Register Office. It would have been handled locally, if the Devon branch had not been reorganised and relocated.

The church had been prepared to offer civil partnerships – initially thought of as a secular offering – but found the cost a deterrent. Hugh said that registered premises were expected to be posh commercial venues, so the rate was set at several thousand pounds.

A cheaper rate was later offered to religious organisations, but Sidmouth Unitarian Church decided to wait for same-sex marriages to come in, and licences were made available for just £64.

Hugh said there had not yet been any overwhelming positive or negative response, adding: “I suspect that the earlier hostility was directed by Conservative voters here and elsewhere against their own party and leadership, and it was a dead issue by the time we got to press.”

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