The progression of allowing civil partnerships in religious premises could be abruptly stopped by Conservative peer Detta O’Cathain after she lodged a prayer to annul in opposition of the legislation.
According to peer Elaine Murphy, “this weird wording means a debate raised to protest against a negative statutory instrument (SI). Under the standard negative procedure, the SI is annulled if the prayer motion is agreed by the House within 40 days of the SI being laid.”
If this happens, it could see the end of the legislative process to allow civil partnerships to take place at religious premises.
Detta O’Cathain is of the view that the new law will not give adequate protection to faith groups from being “compelled” to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.
Derek McAuley, chief officer of the Unitarians and Free Christian Churches, has issued a statement saying: “I am disappointed and saddened at the last minute attempt that will be made in the House of Lords on 8 December 2011 by Baroness O’Cathain to revoke the regulations to allow civil partnership registration in religious premises and would urge its clear rejection. This appears to be a cynical effort to derail the measure on rather spurious grounds.
“The amendment to the Equality Bill permitting registration originated in the House of Lords and was passed with wide support. The matter of churches being ‘compelled’ to register was dealt with by Section 202 which stated that ‘nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so’. This is reinforced in the regulations. Churches are no more obliged to enable civil partnerships to be registered on their premises than hotels or other commercial premises.
“British Unitarian and Free Christians have welcomed this opportunity to recognise in public, and support, a commitment between two individuals to each other. I am sure we will be amongst the first to register some of our premises and have registration ceremonies. This is entirely a local decision for each congregation reflecting our commitment to congregational autonomy and democratic governance as we made clear in our submission during to the consultation by the Equality Office.
“Compulsion in matters of religion goes against our long history of struggle for our religious freedom. We are confident that the legislation offers the protection to those churches who hold a differing view on this issue and do not wish to register their premises for this purpose. They have that freedom.
“Unitarian congregations must not be prevented at this late stage in seeking to take forward our own sincerely held views and to offer same sex couples the opportunity to register their civil partnership”
Paul Martin, chief executive of the Lesbian & Gay Foundation said, “Just when we thought that same-sex couples would be enjoying their commitment to one another being legally recognised on religious premises by the end of the year, this happens, it’s a real blow for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality.
“It’s really important to highlight that this legislation does not force or compel religious establishments to offer Civil Partnerships, it simply gives religious establishments who wish to perform civil partnerships the opportunity to do so.
“This move highlights that opponents of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality will use any legislation to try and derail the legislative process.
“We hope this group is a minority voice in this debate, as the House of Lords becomes more diverse and the advocates of equality. It’s vital that the House of Lords vote for progress and back Civil Partnerships in religious premises.”
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation is encouraging people to write to members of the House of Lords to encourage them to vote against Detta O’Cathain’s proposal. Meanwhile Anglican Mainstream are encouraging people to write to members of the House of Lords to support the proposal.
According to theyworkforyou.com Detta O’Cathain has “voted very strongly against equal gay rights”.
The notice of business for the House of Lords on this matter reads:
House of Lords Future Business
Thursday 8 December at 11.00am
†Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/2661) Baroness O’Cathain to move that a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Regulations, laid before the House on 8 November, be annulled on the grounds that they do not fulfil the Government’s pledge to protect properly faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships where it is against their beliefs.
43rd Report from the Merits Committee.
Last month Derek McAuley was part of a delegation of religious representatives who met equalities minister Lynne Featherstone to discuss equal marriage. The other representatives were Michael Bartlet of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Danny Rich – chief rabbi of Liberal Judaism and Paul Parker – recording clerk of Britain Yearly Meeting.
The Lesbian & Gay Foundation letter template can be accessed here.