We reported on 24 November and again on 2 December on attempts to force a debate in the House of Lords on The Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 which come into force tomorrow.
The Quaker website Nayler has published two articles concerning this development, containing a great deal of useful background information:
And Ekklesia has published Quakers in Britain welcome civil partnerships opportunity.
Iain McLean has written an article at Our Kingdom Time to save religious freedom from the UK’s religious right.
…What faith groups want to conduct civil partnerships on their premises? At the moment, a handful: the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, the Unitarians, and Liberal Judaism. The Act, the regulations and ministers in both Labour and Coalition Governments have all made it clear that s.202 is purely permissive. No faith community can be penalised for not requesting to hold civil partnerships. And yet a coalition of conservative Christian groups continues to insist that this measure exposes them to litigation from those seeking to force them to hold civil partnerships against their will. This is part of a victimhood narrative in which, it is said, people are being penalised “for being Christians” (read: for discriminating against gay clients) in various roles such as registrars, relationship counsellors, would-be adopters, and hotel proprietors. In each of these cases, the courts have ruled against the Christians. This is bad for the individual Christians, who have been encouraged to bring (or defend) hopeless cases; it is good for their lobby groups, who need to keep the victimhood narrative going…
And he concludes:
…Furthermore, in a legal opinion published only on 1 December (long after Lady O’Cathain had secured her debate), the Church of England Legal Office reveals that both it and the government’s own lawyers agree with us and disagree with Mark Hill. It is a mystery why the Legal Office did not pass this opinion on to the Lords committee, which could then have seen that the regulations pose no real threat: neither to the Church of England, nor, as the C of E’s lawyers proceed helpfully to add, to any other faith community, whether congregational or hierarchical.
Lady O’Cathain’s campaign is not about protecting faithful Christians from the threat of vexatious litigation. If it were, then Quakers and Jews, who have suffered more than their fair share of that over the centuries, would be on the same side. It is about restricting religious freedom, and thwarting the will of parliament. Section 202 was enacted under the Labour government. The disputed regulations were promulgated by the coalition. All three parties have therefore endorsed it. As a Quaker, I totally respect the right of other Christian denominations not to host civil partnerships, if that is where their conscience leads them. But we have consciences too. Please get your tanks off our lawn, Lady O’Cathain. I hope that Peers will turn out in force on December 15th to protect religious freedom by defeating the O’Cathain motion.
Recent press coverage has tended to focus more on the Church of England’s own position than on the threat to the regulations themselves:
Martin Beckford Telegraph Church of England insists it will not have to host civil partnerships
Jasmine Coleman Guardian Church of England pours cold water on hopes for civil partnership ceremonies
Steve Doughty Mail Church ‘may have to offer gay weddings’ if Cameron’s plans given go-ahead
Press Association Tatchell asks clergy to defy ruling