Lord Alli has written on the Telegraph website about the amendment passed in the House of Lords last week, and the ensuing discussion, see A victory for religious freedom. It reads in part as follows:
…There was nonetheless huge concern from the Church of England and the Catholic Church that they would be forced – against their will – to host Civil Partnerships.
But we had included a specific provision in the amendment to ensure religious freedom which stated quite plainly: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host Civil Partnerships if they do not wish to do so.”
Religious freedom means letting the Quakers, the Unitarians and the Liberal Jews host Civil Partnerships: a decision that they had considered in prayer and decided in conscience.
But religious freedom also means respecting the decision of the Church of England and the Catholic Church – decisions also made in prayer and taken in conscience – that they do not wish to do so.
That is what we agreed during the debate, and trying to pretend otherwise is to entirely misrepresent the way which this decision was taken.
I was therefore saddened by the Bishop of Winchester, who tried to characterise this debate by suggesting that Church of England vicars will be forced to host Civil Partnerships in their building.
Let’s not pretend that this amendment forces anything onto anyone. Let’s not pretend that individual clergy are going to face litigation. Let’s not pretend that churches will have to close just for obeying Church of England law.
This amendment was all about allowing religious groups to obey their own law, and the Bishop of Winchester should be above sensationalising the issue.
I was also saddened that the Bishop of Winchester was able to condemn our decision in the press, but didn’t turn up to listen to the debate, or indeed to cast a vote.
Out of the 26 bishops entitled to be there, only two made the effort to join the discussion – despite it being an otherwise well-attended debate.
You have to ask the question: if it was so important, if the consequences of this decision were to be so catastrophic, why were they absent from a debate which had been on the diary for weeks?
So let me assure the Bishop of Winchester and all those concerned: unless their religious organisation wants it, or unless Parliament changes the law, there is absolutely no risk of being forced to carry out any ceremony if they do not wish to…
The newspaper edition reports the story in a separate article, see Lord Alli attacks bishops in ‘gay marriage’ row.