Comments: Equality Bill: reports and reactions

I con't understand this fixation with "licenced premises".

In Sweden the licence is bound up in the Performer, the Priest/Judge (or licenced other) as the Agent of the State for this piece of Administrative law, as it is.

The actual place is of no importance as long as the usual requirements are met.

Seems much simpler and more rational to me.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 11:22am GMT

The debate on civil marriage for same sex couples is interesting.

I think the current situation is discriminatory and imposes real harms on same sex couples who wish to marry in a house of worship as well as religions who wish to do so and can't.

The simplest solution is to allow for same sex religious and civil marriage.

I think that Civil Partnerships done in Church creates all sorts of complexities which maybe can be sorted out, maybe they can't.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 1:48pm GMT

"Their [The Bishops] political victory is a moral and spiritual defeat."-Savi Hensman The Guardian.

Absolutely bang on.

Posted by choirboyfromhell at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 4:47pm GMT

Question: are same sex civil unions in England legally equivalent to civil marriages? Do they confer the same benefits and obligations?

In the US, where civil unions are legal in a few places, they confer differing benefits and obligations from state to state, and they also differ from civil marriage within the same state.

That's one reason people here push so hard for civil marriage, which varies in some detail from state to state, but which is portable - you don't have to remarry if, married, you move from Ohio to Virginia. Civil unions are not portable.

And of course here, the federal obligations and benefits of marriage are explicitly forbidden same sex couples in the Defence of Marriage Act [DOMA].

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 4:57pm GMT

Sadly the CCFON site won't take comments. Comments were also disabled under their recent video on YouTube. That is a shame, and also quite unusual these days. If, I was able to comment under "Praise God for the victory in the House of Lords!" I would write this:

If you are praising God for the Lords victory, what will you do if the Commons reverse their amendments and go with the government one? Will that be an act of Satan perhaps? If so, you could end up praising God for an act by unelected people and blaming Satan for an act by elected representatives. That might be an uncomfortable position to hold.

Posted by Paul Walter at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 6:36pm GMT


UK civil partnerships are intended to give all the same benefits and obligations as civil marriages, but are a distinct category.

There are still a few differences, as exemplified by the CofE pensions issue discussed elsewhere on TA. Equalisation of pension benefits was not made fully retrospective when civil partnerships were introduced. But generally speaking, the benefits are now exactly the same.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 6:50pm GMT

For what it's worth, I (allegedly heterosexual) am all in favour of calling long-term same-sex unions 'marriage' and, consequently, of their being celebrated in church. Why not? The notion that God created 'marriage' as between male and female for reproduction is absurd (absurd because obviously non-historical). 'Marriage' is a social construct and institution. There are good reasons for it. But they're not theological ones.

On the bishops' behaviour, of course S Hensman (as quoted) is right. More concretely, their stupidity will surely accelerate their defeat. How on earth can anyone any more respect creatures such as Wright and Sentamu? Harries is a different kettle of fish. Here is a person ('man', if one insists) who has 'grown' in his understanding of this - and other - issues. But then he is an intelligent person.

Posted by john at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 8:15pm GMT

The Church will have to be destroyed if it continues to refuse human rights like this.

Will it be raised up again on the 3rd (or any other) day ?

Posted by Rev L Roberts at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 8:52pm GMT

The term 'marriage' does not necessarily apply, scripturally, to the relationship between male and female. For instance, what is termed in the scriptures 'the marriage feast of the Lamb' applies also to the committed relationship of Christ and the Church. Jesus is seen as the *bridegroom* and the Church, his *bride*.

Also, a nun, at her 'consecration' is given a wedding ring, and is called a 'bride of Christ'. So why all this kerfuffle about two Christians who want to relate to one another in faithful commitment wanting to use the term 'marriage'?

What does it really matter about what we call the relationship of two people in loving partnership, when 'marriage' may, both in scripture and tradition of the Church, be a term applied to other than heterosexual partnership?

It should also be noted that married people now often refer to their relationship as partnership, preferring to speak of 'my partner', rather than using the gender terms: 'husband' or 'wife'. These people are obviously indifferent to the problems of what the term 'marriage' might be meant to signify - in terms of their relationship

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 9:31pm GMT

My best guess about this latest round of rightwing believer hoo-ha is that it circles stormily around the reality-evidential testing of hallowed flat earth beliefs-evaluations. All that hoo-ha mainly involves our customary queer folks and the customary religious (plus folk-cultural) issues having to do with just how toxic, incompetent, and contaminating those queer folks are said to be per most legacy religious revelations.

This struggle is vexed, painful no doubt - not least because in fact we have already move so very far beyond the nastiest and most powerful of our legacy revelation.

We've shocked ourselves as believers - having already set aside the Leviticus Abomination death penalty so clearly aimed at men, not to mention the rest of that legacy list that conflated buggery with heresy plain and simple. Outlines of Auto-Da-Fe lurking? The nastiest animus of the legacy was clear to both learned and peasant; though the real world and church particulars on the ground were often quite different, a long-standing DADT habit - if we credit Boswell?

It's a frightening new world to these conservative believers, since frankly even they are getting that you cannot tell somebody is straight or gay, active or abstinent, just from having a quick-obvious common sense weigh of their basic human and/or professional competency in an immediate daily life interaction, surface or substance. Small wonder that the atmosphere around this latest bit of reality testing has gotten palpably panicked?

Oh goodness sakes, the earth is NOT flat nor the sole center of the cosmos when it comes to sex and human nature and sexual orientation? The very believers who so pride themselves on being able to conduct their everyday lives without having to consciously know they have met and had benefit from a real, live queer man or woman are less and less able to completely sidestep the social fact that others are doing so, all around, and have little or nothing to fear from it, celebrating the general social-religious benefits of fairness, not to mention the many different competencies involved in those particular alternative human transactions.

Harang on then, about all the sea monsters waiting to arise from the Ptolemaic Cosmological depths. Go, Panic.

Posted by drdanfee at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 9:47pm GMT

"Religious freedom" seems to give these Christians an absolute right to ignore the law if they dislike it. -- quote from Terry Sanderson
What a beautiful way to sum things up in a nutshell!
These Lords Spiritual -- my, how medieval we sound! -- want precisely that ability when it comes to GLBT people, but God forbid anyone should discriminate against "them"!
Now, a procedural question: If the Commons pass a bill, then the Lords change it meaningfully and pass it, does Commons have to approve the changes?
That is, do both Houses have to pass the same version of the bill for it to be approved by Parliament? Or does one House have precedence?

Posted by peterpi at Wednesday, 27 January 2010 at 10:28pm GMT

Will some kind soul explain to me what happens if the Commons does accept the amendments.

As I understand it, the original was a (perhaps clumsy) attempt to make British law conform with European Union requirements.

Do the amendments mean the law will no longer conform? And in that case, who's going to bet on how long it will take someone to challenge the (amended) law in the European courts (a long process to get there, I realise)?

Posted by john holding at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 12:37am GMT

Answer to John Holding: In simple terms the Commons can do what they want - whatever the Lords do.

When the bill returns, as amended, to the Commons from the Lords, the Commons can simply take out the O'Cathain amendments and replace them with the government amendment or another amendment. The Lords can then amend it back again and that farce can go on for three times. At the third time, the Commons, if they want, can over-rule the Lords by using the Parliament Act, so that whatever the Commons wants goes in the Bill for signature by HM Queen.

That is what can happen in extreme cases. But the Commons could decide not to bother to reverse the Lords' decision. Or the Commons could reverse the Lords' decision and the Lords' might decide to put up the white flag and not contest it.

So basically, it depends how strongly the Commons (and therefore the government) feel about it. There is usually a great reluctance by both Houses to take things to the brink and use the Parliament Act, hence they both try to find a compromise.

This protracted farce-type procedure might seem daft, but it bascially means that elected representatives (the Commons) can overule unelected people (the Lords).

So, it's not over til the lady signs the Bill basically. Then it's written on Goatskin....but that's another story.

Posted by Paul Walter at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 9:47am GMT

Andrew Brown’s second piece asks pertinent questions and reminds us that “married with four children” can still mean gay (particularly in religious organisations).

I must say that I found William Fittall’s view to Parliament that he couldn’t have a press officer who was openly gay rather unconvincing – I don’t know any of the present press staff but (like Andrew) have known several key players in the past who were gay and my experience was that they did not fail their masters and in fact gave the gay lobby short shrift, believing:
1. They knew our position and didn’t need to hear it from us and didn’t like our style.
2. We were a threat to them.
When one of these who had been very unhelpful was quietly removed recently he lamented that he was the last highly placed gay person and he feared for the future for LGBT’s - he has warmed to “our style” since.

To get back to Andrew’s question about discriminating against gay people for front line jobs – I would say that the matter is far less clear now that the Lords have rejected the governments amendment. In fact there have been so many gay press officers that, in a court or tribunal, I think it would be difficult to maintain that it was a GOR to be straight!

I would argue that the government amendment (far from maintaining the status quo) would have given Fittall all he asked for if not all he wanted. I would say that the outcome for the Reaney case might have been different if this failed amendment had been in force, though Simon is the expert here and might hold a differing view.

Lord Ali mentioned both the Reaney case and that of Jeffrey John to demonstrate the falseness of the claims that the Church only discriminated in case of practice rather than orientation. I think it was Bp of Winchester who threw back that Reaney had not involved a commitment to celibacy.

I believe that the bishop was mistaken – as I remember the evidence, Reaney was asked and DID commit his life to celibacy while he held the post. The bishop went on to refuse him the job the appointment committee had offered because – he did not believe him!
Again Simon, who was sitting next to me, was much more attentive and will have a better recall.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 10:47am GMT

I think the European Commission angle can be overdone. The Bill's main reason for being is not to implement EU law as the usual practice is to use a regulation making power in the 1972 European Communities Act (govt issues regulations to transpose EU law and Parliament votes yes or no - so no power to amend, and from recent debates you can see why this route is used).

The equality bill was used as an opportunity to improve the transposition of the Directives but it in itself was not conceived purely for this purpose.

The answer of what happens if EU law is not fully transposed into UK legislation is, I think, that firstly various bodies can raise concerns about the way the Directive is being 'transposed' and in a case lost in UK tribunals as a result of any discrepancy between the two sets of law the case can be appealed to the European Court of Justice.

As to the role of the Commons, it is up to the Government to either seek to reverse the changes or introduce its own fresh amendments and 'have another go' in the Lords prior to the bill's passage.

Posted by Craig Nelson at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 12:43pm GMT

Paul -- my question was not whether the Commons could or would accept the Lords amendments. Obviously they can either accept or reject. WHether they will accept or reject is rather a different matter.

My question was about what happens if they do accept the amendments -- and if the amendments seriously compromise the attempt to bring UK law into conformity with European standards.

Posted by John Holding at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 3:54pm GMT

The maneuvers by CofE Bishops in the British House of Lords provide a fascinating window on the current impasse in the world wide Anglican “Communion” for North Americans. There is a clear willingness to use appointments based on privilege to undermine both democratic will and the advancement of civil rights. It explains why the more democratic polity of TEC, and the slightly less democratic polity of the Canadian Church are treated by as an enigma and a bloody nuisance by English prelates. The current conflict in the communion over human rights for gay and lesbian people is based on an impasse in theology only in part. The “Lords spiritual” (why does “Dr. Who” come to mind?) are operating as a monarchical episcopate. The CofE is not only in a different ballpark than North Americans, but also in a completely different universe apparently. I can’t wait for the grudge match when medieval overlords meet the EU court of appeal.
-Chuck Inglis

Posted by Chuck Inglis at Thursday, 28 January 2010 at 4:26pm GMT

In answer to John, for practical purposes it is the Government's decision because the government has an overall majority and can whip its members (though of course they may vote against the government line and occasionally do). So the next step is to find out the view of the Government.

If the Government seeks to reverse the Lords' amendments then we have ping pong between the two chambers and maybe a compromise can be worked out.

Sometimes the Parliament Act can be used but I'm not sure in the case because of timing issues and in any case we are close to an election when all comes to a halt so there isn't time for protracted argument.

In the event that UK law is inconsistent with a Directive this is very unfortunate and leaves the Govt vulnerable to legal action against it and of being being taken to the European Court of Justice and possibly being fined.

Such inconsistencies are therefore regrettable but can exist for a number of years while they get sorted out. The UK is not alone in having poor transposition of Directives (and of this Directive in particular).

Notably Germany was 3 years late in transposing the Directive (in a general equality law) and their transposition was poor in some regards, as was that of other countries (including the UK in some respects as is now well known).

One other unknown variable is the approach of the UK Courts and to what extent the Directive can be read 'into' UK legislation as was done with the Sexual Orientation Regulations in the Amicus v DTI case and the doctrine of 'direct effect'.

That was the starting point for the whole process of the amendments to the Equality Bill, so to be non-compliant means a whole lot of argument and potential for legal cases in the future and a degree of legal uncertainty, which is unfortunate for all concerned (including employers who are denied certainty about the law).

Posted by Craig Nelson at Friday, 29 January 2010 at 3:42am GMT

Martin asked about the Reaney case.
In my opinion, with either of the two wordings of the definition clause that were rejected, the Reaney outcome would have been the same. That is because the tribunal found that his job did come within the scope of the exemption. The new wordings either:

- did not change the scope of the definition, in which case the outcome would be the same, or
- did change it by narrowing it enough to exclude Reaney's position, in which case Reaney would have won without question, or
- did change it by widening it, so still he would have come within it.

So the definition doesn't matter.

But, the tribunal awarded judgment in his favour because it said the bishop was not entitled to reject the undertaking offered to him by Reaney to be celibate while employed by the diocese. So Martin's second recollection is correct. Strictly speaking though, the appointment committee had not offered, as this was a formality reserved to the bishop.

This matter was referred to in the debate by Lord Alli, who said:
"... John Reaney, refused a job as a youth worker by the Bishop of Hereford in 2005 in spite of an agreement that he would be celibate.”

And the Hansard record then incorrectly attributes a response to him to the Bp of Winchester, when it was in fact the Bp of Hereford himself who said to Lord Alli in the House of Lords:
“There was no such agreement with Mr Reaney.”

I interpret this to mean that because the bishop did not accept the offer, there was no agreement. Not even the bishop would deny that the offer was made.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 30 January 2010 at 6:04pm GMT

Thank you Simon.

Made all the more interesting because you were there!

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 1 February 2010 at 1:30am GMT
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