Lords debates civil partnerships

16 December 2011

Baroness O’Cathain (Conservative) withdrew her motion to annul the registration of civil partnerships taking place on religious premises before voting took place yesterday in the Chamber (Thursday 15 December)

The baroness challenged the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 law, which came into play on 5 December saying that it: ‘did not fulfil the Governments pledge to protect faith groups from being compelled to register civil partnerships’. The new regulations allow faith groups to make their own decisions as to whether a civil ceremony can take place on their property.

Members debated for over two hours in the chamber and covered areas from human rights to equality.

Lord Alli (Labour), whose original amendment to the Equality Act lifting the original blanket ban, made it clear that religious organisations would not be 'forced' into host civil partnerships in their buildings against their will. He tackled the legal implications of the issue saying: 'We should not fashion our laws around the convenience or inconvenience of any particular religion. We cannot stop a gay Catholic man from suing the Catholic Church. We cannot stop a gay Anglican from suing the Church of England. For that matter, we cannot stop a straight man or woman from doing the same. We in this House cannot stop people from going to court.'

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn voiced the views of the Church of England and spoke of procedures requiring the consent in writing of the General Synod: 'My Lords, of course I share the concerns expressed by others about how these regulations might affect other churches. However... I should like to say how I think these regulations might affect the Church of England, although I shall perhaps be looking through a slightly different part of the lens.

'At the moment, the Church of England, through the General Synod, has not expressed any desire at all for its churches to be used for registering civil partnerships. Therefore, it might be thought that I should be very content to rely simply on the provisions of the regulations that would require the consent of the General Synod to be given before any Church of England church could be approved for registering civil partnerships... It could be thought by some that allowing churches to be used for civil partnerships would affect the doctrine or worship of the church. If so, those special procedures would come into play.'

After a response from the goverment, Baroness O'Cathain withdrew her motion to annul saying: 'If the Minister is saying, in a ministerial Statement from the Dispatch Box, that he is convinced that the protection for the avoidance of doubt in the 2004 Act applies to the 2010 Act, then in view of the opinion around the House I will withdraw my Motion.'

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