Comments: Roman Catholic memo on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to be very perturbed about the consequences of this Bill. That persuades me that there must be something good about it. Roman Catholic dogmatic decisions have not served their own constituency too well in the past. One only has to look at the response of the laity of that Church to realise that the rule which forbids the use of material contraception is disregarded by the majority of families on the West.

Their need for water-tight protections from the possible penalties of the Law, for the R.C. Church would seem to be paramount. No doubt, they are aware of how easy it is for their own constituency to get around their own doctrinal 'No-Nos'.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 9:57am GMT

Good news, on the whole. Most importantly because the Catholic bishops now accept that this is going to happen and are not going to attempt to re-open the debate about the principle of the thing, and also explicitly say that their concerns as expressed in their submission are not intended as "wrecking" amendments.

Reading through their submission I think they mostly want a very high level of clarity about what elements of the law mean - not a bad thing in itself. And they do admit that none of the negative consequences they fear from the passage of this legislation may come to pass!

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 10:41am GMT

Yet, Maria Miller in her response to correspondence from the Catholic Bishops Conference states: 'Clause 2 of the Bill protects anyone who takes part in the solemnisation of a religious marriage'.

Again, she declares, 'we are completely confident that the Convention does not require the UK to force religious organisations to conduct marriages for same-sex couples if that is against their religious doctrines'. This focus on the organisation, rather than the individual: it's (to reverse the adage) 'not seeing the trees for the wood'. Hence, she says: 'any interference in the rights of a same-sex couple would be justified'.

If, as the EHRC submits, Clause 2 must be amended to do no more than protect clergy and authorised persons from the legal compulsion of the couple alone, it is because the EHRC believe there is no prospect of successfully protecting individual ministers from the compulsion of the religious organisation that opts in to same-sex marriage.

As Ian Leigh wrote in the Oxford Journal of Law and Religion:

'It might be thought that domestic courts are free to grant additional constitutional protection against non-governmental bodies where Strasbourg would not do so but even this raises potential difficulties. Religious organizations have Convention rights of their own and to tip the balance too far in favour of the individual at the domestic level could leave the state open to challenge by the organization at the Strasbourg level.'

This is always the danger of religious 'opt-in' legislation that arises from civil jurisdiction. I wouldn't want to see another Great Ejectment. Would any MP, or member of the House of Lords?

Posted by David Shepherd at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 11:46am GMT

Well, it's an interesting submission, in that it purports to not be a call for "wrecking amendments" but its recommendations are fairly vague, requiring further discussion and exploration. Is it unduly cynical to suspect delay for delay's sake, in the hope that the coalition for marriage will fail?

I'm also struck by the fact that, as in the U.S. (although far more politely than the USCCB re Obama) are pushing for an individual exemption for civil clerks, registrars, etc., who are religiously opposed to SSM. The submission states that "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Article 9 does not provide adequate protection when there is a clash between it and equality on the basis of sexual orientation," an assertion for which it cites the Ladele case. (P 20, Par 92) It seems to me that this call for a legislative override of the decision would set a precedent allowing government employees to thwart the legal rights of the public to services without being subjected to disparate treatment.

Posted by John Wirenius at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 5:06pm GMT

What on earth does "teach about same-sex marriage" mean? That Catholic schools will need to promote it? No, clearly. That they will need to acknowledge that it exists? Yes, probably - and so much the better - it might actually save a few of the children learning that they are not alone in the world.

Posted by Nat at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 5:16pm GMT

These overtures need to be viewed in a wider context - perhaps.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 8:09pm GMT

Gaining further historical perspective :

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 9:45pm GMT

Unfortunately the most high-ranking RC in the UK has now been accused himself. It is all 'getting beyond a joke' (as they say). Laugh or cry. Hard to take the relentless accusations, rumours and a system that lacks reassurance - both here and at the Vatican.

It shows the need for real honesty and humanity about sex and relationships - surely the only way forward with integrity ? And to release people like O'Brien and many others from an unrealistic and personally detrimental burden.

Posted by Laurence Roberts at Saturday, 23 February 2013 at 11:15pm GMT

Completely agree with you, Laurence.

Posted by John at Sunday, 24 February 2013 at 3:29pm GMT

As Jeremy says, the tone is striking. The RC bishops and their lawyers have accepted that this will become law and are seeking mitigations (most of which, if I were the Bill's manager, I would grant, except in relation to civil registrars). Contrast that with the Canutes who describe themselves as "the" C of E.

Posted by Iain McLean at Sunday, 24 February 2013 at 9:13pm GMT

Are schools forced to "teach about" divorce?

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Monday, 25 February 2013 at 10:49am GMT

All Catholic GCSE RE text books look at contraception and explain in detail the different types. This is done from a dispassionate perspective , as the criteria for answering questions at GCSE are not based on dogmatic bias.

Posted by robert ian Williams at Monday, 25 February 2013 at 5:35pm GMT

Robert, would you please tell your local (Roman Catholic) bishops of this truth: that though R.C. teachers may have to acknowledge Same Sex Marriage, they do not have to promote it? Do you think that will help the R.C. hierarchy to harbour a little less paranoia about the subject?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 12:12am GMT

I agree that it's unlikely that faith schools will be under an obligation to use specific materials, such as 'Out in school' enforsed by the Terrence Higgins Trust.

I'm not particularly convinced by commenters here that the fate of Adrian Smith (the housing manager who was demoted for describing same-sex marriage in church as 'an equality too far' on his personal Facebook page in his own time) will not befall any teachers.

As we know, there are management tactics that fall short of the legal compulsion that the bill seeks to thwart

Posted by David Shepherd at Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 8:49am GMT
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