The Roman Catholic Church in England & Wales has issued a briefing on the amendments that have been submitted for next week’s Report stage debate in the House of Commons.
The document is available as a PDF file and its introductory section is copied below the fold.
Archbishops Vincent Nichols and Peter Smith have commented as follows:
We urge members of the House of Commons to think again about the long term consequences of the Marriage (same sex couples) Bill in deciding how to vote at the report stage and third reading debates next week (20-21 May).
Many people within and beyond the faith communities deeply believe that the state should not seek to change the fundamental meaning of marriage. This proposed change in the law is far more profound than first appears. Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage. It is not too late for Parliament to think again and we urge MPs to do so.
Furthermore, the Bill as currently drafted poses grave risks to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If the Bill is to proceed through Parliament we urge members to ensure it is amended so that these fundamental freedoms we all cherish are clearly and demonstrably safeguarded.
Even more detail than the Briefing Note can be found via this page.
Introduction and Summary:
This briefing note sets out specific amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill proposed by Members of Parliament in order to protect religious freedom and freedom of speech. These amendments have the support of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
The Church’s principled objection to the legislation was set out in our Second Reading Briefing Note (http://www.catholicnews.org.uk/marriage-same-sex-couples-bill-briefing). Given the support that the Bill received at Second Reading, our aim now is to ensure that the Bill, should it become law, effectively delivers the protections that the Government promised to provide for religious individuals and organisations. Our legal advice warns that these amendments are necessary to protect freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
These amendments seek to give effect to the protections that the Government has repeatedly stated that it seeks to provide. The amendments cover four areas:
(1) Freedom of Speech:
There is a real concern that individuals will be subjected to some form of detriment if they express views or opinions against same sex marriage.
The Bill causes two potential problems for religious schools: first in relation to current guidance issued by the Secretary of State about marriage, and second in relation to future guidance. Unless protection is built into the Bill, religious schools may be compelled to promote and endorse same sex marriage under current and/or future guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
(3) Protection for Registrars:
There is presently no protection in the Bill for current (or future) civil registrars who have a conscientious objection to conducting same sex marriage ceremonies.
(4) Protection from Compulsion:
Protection from “compulsion” is central to the protection provided for religious individuals and organisations. But there is no definition of ‘compelled’ in the Bill. This creates significant uncertainty and weakens the scope of the protection that is afforded by the Bill. The Bill also recognises the possibility of legal challenge under section 29 of the Equality Act 2010 and provides explicit protection in Clause 2(5); however the scope of that protection is too narrowly drawn and leaves religious organisations at risk of legal challenge.
Whilst these four issues are not our only areas of concern (other pieces of legislation, including the Public Order Act 1986 and other sections of the Equality Act 2010, should also be amended in order to provide proper protection for religious individuals and organisations), we have focused on them as our major concerns.