Iris Voegeli at The Octagon Unitarian Chapel

Norwich Chapel pushes ahead to hold civil partnerships

By richard wheeler
Thursday, February 21, 2013
12.35 PM

A chapel is pushing ahead to become one of the first religious premises in Britain to hold civil partnership ceremonies, despite equality and cost concerns.

The Octagon Unitarian Chapel, in Colegate, Norwich, has applied for a five-year licence to hold ceremonies for same-sex couples, which will cost it £1,550 from Norfolk County Council.

Congregation members say they are frustrated by the red tape associated with the application, which means it costs more than the £120 for a marriage licence. The chapel has also not had to renew its marriage licence since 1836.

But the county council says the £1,550 fee covers the administration work required to licence a building.

They added the authority had a responsibility when licensing a building to ensure it met appropriate standards, with marriage licences following a different process.

Iris Voegeli, chairman of the chapel’s congregation, said: “There’s a lot of red tape with it.

“We can already perform marriage ceremonies and blessings but for this we need all sorts of safeguards about the place.”

Proposed government legislation changes to allow same-sex marriages could reduce the licence costs to £120.

But Mrs Voegeli said: “We don’t want to wait. There’s not only the fact we have some members of the congregation who want to have a civil ceremony in the chapel, it’s also the issue of equality.”

Caroline Clarke, proper officer for the registration service at Norfolk County Council, said: “During our discussions I suggested that there would be a considerable saving for the couple and for the church if the signing of the schedule, which is the legal element of the civil partnership, was undertaken at the register office – fees start at £45.

“The ceremony could then be held in the church, conducted by the minister or church leader of the couple’s choice with the content they desire and the religious significance they want.

“When the registrars attend a civil partnership there is an additional charge to the couple on top of the licensing fee which is paid by the venue.

“People may not realise that the registrar is not able to provide a religious ceremony in a religious building or anywhere else, so the significance of being in the church might be diminished if no worship or hymns are allowed.”