Thursday, 15 December 2011

House of Lords: challenge to civil partnership regulations withdrawn

Updated again Friday morning

The House of Lords today debated the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011. See earlier reports, starting here.

No vote was taken, as Baroness O’Cathain eventually withdrew her motion:

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.

Links to Hansard:

The permanent record of this debate now starts here. See below the fold for links to the speeches made by the Bishop of Oxford, and the Bishop of Blackburn (twice).

Meanwhile, media reports:

And press releases:

This morning, the Guardian had published this editorial comment: Civil partnerships: questions for the church

…Today’s motion should be opposed. Opposing it would be more straightforward if the Church of England were to come off the fence on the issue of gay and lesbian equality. Britain has taken great strides towards wider tolerance and equality in recent years. Yet on civil partnerships, as on women bishops and gay priests, the church has recognised the moral wrongness of discrimination while failing to embrace the moral rightness of equality. Everyone can see where this journey is leading. But leading is the one thing the church is reluctant to do. It could make a start by throwing its weight clearly against the conservatives in the Lords today.

And earlier, the Cutting Edge Consortium had published this briefing note for peers.

The leaders of the religious bodies who had originally sought this legislation wrote a letter to parliamentary leaders, which is reproduced in this Ekklesia article: Faith bodies urge Lords to support civil partnerships.

Bishop of Oxford’s speech starts here.

Bishop of Blackburn: first speech starts here; second speech starts here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 2:54pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: equality legislation
Comments

Lord Ali said "... 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."

This is exactly what happened and the Baroness ought to be ashamed for the anxiety she caused and the time and effort which she made others put into the rebutting of her spurious arguments. I am glad to see that the Bishop of Oxford had the courage to condemn the action too. I hope that the Baroness will, in future, confine her energies to more worthy causes than the restriction of the civil and religious liberties of those with whom she happens to disagree. No doubt she has scored brownie points with those 'Christian' bodies which supported her, with the rest of us she has shown herself to be destructive and prejudiced.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 5:27pm GMT

Encouraging to read so many sage, personal and great speeches.

Some great testimonies to faith among lgbt peoples.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Thursday, 15 December 2011 at 8:39pm GMT

Since the Liberal Democrats and many of the Conservatives, including the Prime Minister, seem committed to equal marriage legislation next year, we will be in for some very interesting debates within the CofE. I don't see how the state Church can be exempted altogether from performing lawful marriages for same sex couples, while opposite sex couples can be married in their local parish, even if they have not seen the inside of it for years and don't believe in much that could be called Christian doctrine.

I think that +RW would be happy to avoid all of this by retiring into a quiet academic post where he can grow his eyebrows as long as he wants.

And what would the GAFCON intrusion into the CofE come to if they have to wed gay couples in their churches? This will surely distance them even further from Canterbury. Perhaps the Baroness can fly cover for them and other likeminded clerics by offering an amendment for an individual parish exemption.

So, while people are being slaughtered in the streets in Syria and starving in Zimbabwe, let's all get together for a protracted debate about how the Church can safely discriminate against some Christians in the name of Jesus.

Merry Christmas to all of you. My prayers for this holy season will be for all the Churches to embrace the compassion and the focus on the heart of the disciples that are characteristic of Jesus.

Posted by: karen macqueen+_ on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 2:14am GMT

All friends of religious liberty should be delighted at this outcome. But look at the speeches of two peers who supported Lady O'Cathain: the Bishop of Blackburn and Lord Cormack, a long-standing member of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. The Bishop of Blackburn said: "there is surely no need for the Church of England to be included in these regulations at all. Indeed, it should be expressly excluded from them". Lord Cormack said "It is important that the Church of England should have its special position recognised and there should be exemption for it".

So: they claim that the Established Church should be exempt from laws that apply to every other faith community. The Lord Bishop uses his seat, and would have used his vote, in the legislature that his church's establishment gives him to protect what he sees as his church's interest.

If there is a better argument for disestablishment, I have not come across it.

Posted by: Iain McLean on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 9:41am GMT

I think Nelson Jones's article is especially noteworthy, looking, as it does, beyond this small storm in a teacup to the future when, conceivably, the government will legislate for marriage equality. At that point the nice distinction between marriages and civil partnerships will evaporate in the popular mind - as will the defence against charges of discrimination that the churches now enjoy by virtue of that distinction.

Unless the churches can get a religious exemption written into future legislation then marriage will presumably be open to all in all contexts. And I wonder if Parliament is likely this time around to maintain and enshrine in statute legal rights to discriminate - I somehow doubt it.

If marriage and civil partnership equality is what the government aims for (CPs for straights and marriages for LGBTs in addition to what we currently have) then, if the consciences of some are not to be over-ridden then I would have thought a system of universal civil registration like the French one will be needed - with what ever additional ceremonies anyone wants to add. That would free churches to do whatever they wished - both inclusively and exclusively. And it would permit all the many variations of celebrating partnerships and marriages that the English and Welsh want.

Posted by: JeremyP on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 10:33am GMT

'Baroness O’Cathain eventually withdrew her motion.'

But her statement was grudging. Also she felt so down about it, and about the horrible letters saying she was 'homophobic' of all things. I do feel for her, even though I think she may have misunderstood something.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 3:26pm GMT

'Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. I was very relieved that I was not at the butt-end of accusations of being homophobic, toxic, odious or even old, as I was in some of the letters that I got. I know I am old, but I do not like it to be said pejoratively.

I have listened intently. I remember-this is a flashback to my childhood-that when my parents asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to become a lawyer. Thank goodness I did not, that is all I can say; it is even more confusing than being an economist.'

The Baroness seems really down here. I hope she soon feels more positive and valued.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 3:34pm GMT

"I think that +RW would be happy to avoid all of this by retiring into a quiet academic post where he can grow his eyebrows as long as he wants."

While I find myself in enthusiastic agreement with the rest of what Karen McQueen writes, surely the last shot here is gratuitous?

Posted by: Nat on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 5:20pm GMT

The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon has a letter in The Guardian on the subject.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/church-and-partners-marriage

Posted by: badman on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 7:13pm GMT

Following Liz Badman's link to the letter from the Bishop of Brecon. The Bishop wrote 'Opposition to the government's proposal rested properly on the basis of its illogicality and not on the basis of any offence to equality or hostility to homosexuality'.

I don't know what the Bishop has been reading but it was certainly not Hansard or the published reports. His intervention thus further points up the fact that they really don't know what they are talking about.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 11:21pm GMT

JeremyP,

I think the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships has never really existed in the popular mind; I think most people thought of civil partnership as gay marriage from the moment it was introduced.

Did you notice, in the same House of Lords debate that this post covers, the maiden speech of Lord Collins of Highbury, in which he referred straightforwardly to his husband?

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111215-0001.htm#11121598001415

"Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, in my maiden speech to this House, my first thanks went to the officials and staff for their warm introduction. Not only did they make me feel extremely welcome, they made my husband Rafael feel extremely welcome, too. My second thanks went to your Lordships, not least for the fact that I was able to say "my husband". These Benches have helped transform my life and the lives of countless lesbian and gay people in this country. I am immensely pleased that it is no longer just noble friends on one side of this House who applaud progress in this area but Peers on every side of the Chamber. That consensus is a sign of this House at its best."

Posted by: badman on Friday, 16 December 2011 at 11:37pm GMT

Oh dear, the bishop of Brecon seems to have missed a lot of points. Then again maybe he's given the game away - the attempt to annul the regulations is just a rerun of the debate that was had when the Alli amendment was passed (by the Lords) and then carried into law. Of course that is not what the proponents of the prayer to anul were saying.

On another point, I noted that the EDM to annul the regulations in the Commons had only 11 supporters.

Posted by: Craig Nelson on Saturday, 17 December 2011 at 8:30am GMT
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