A move to prevent religious premises from holding same-sex civil-partnership ceremonies in the U.K. has been defeated – and equality campaigners are elated.
“Christmas has come early for equality,” says Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the UK campaign group Stonewall, in a press release.
“We’re delighted that a campaign of misinformation surrounding this issue has today been seen off by [the UK’s upper legislative chamber] the House of Lords.
“Although only a small number of devout lesbian and gay people will benefit, at Stonewall we will always stand up for minority groups – whether of faith or anything else – within our community. This was an important issue of religious freedom.”
A “wrecking motion” to defeat an amendment to the 2010 Equality Act – an amendment put forward by openly gay peer Lord Alli in spring 2011 – was proposed by the Tory Baroness O’Cathain.
“However,” says Stonewall, “significant demonstrations of support for Stonewall’s position from across the House meant that Baroness O’Cathain withdrew her motion moments before a vote was due to be called.”
Stonewall adds: “The ‘Alli amendment’, section 202 of the new Equality Act, is entirely permissive. Contrary to claims made
Stonewall (used with permission)
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill
by opponents of equality during today’s debate, it will only apply to denominations such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and Liberal Judaism which have chosen to host civil partnership ceremonies. The first ceremonies are expected to take place early in the new year.”
O’Cathain and her supporters said they feared that, under equality legislation, religious organisations would eventually be compelled to perform same-sex union ceremonies, even though that was not the case at the moment.
“But her claim was rubbished by peers, including Labour’s Lord Alli, who tabled the original amendment allowing the change,” says the Huffington Post’s UK edition.
It goes on to quote Alli as saying the wrecking move was part of a “heady cocktail” of increasing prejudice against homosexuals.
“I think it happens because first you take a spurious argument. You dress it up in legal language. You get a senior QC or two to write a lot about very little. Then you throw in a very large dose of prejudice.
“Finally you add that secret ingredient: fear. Fear that people will be coerced into acting against their conscience.”