Civil partnerships shock
Within the course of an hour, the door of unintended consequence was forced open as the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly to allow civil partnerships to be conducted on church premises.
During the debate, tabled for 10.00pm on 2 March, several members of the House of Lords put forward sensible arguments against allowing this amendment to section 53 of the Equality Bill. Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit said: ‘I fear that the human rights law will be used to compel churches to conduct civil partnerships against their conscience; if they do not, they will be accused of discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation’.
He, like Lord Waddington, feared that the gay rights group Stonewall would deliberately target churches which did not agree to this regulation, leading to court cases and hefty fines.
It was, ironically, put forward as a ‘freedom’ for the church since religious organisations like the Quakers and liberal Jews had requested it be permitted. Lord Alli, an openly gay member of the House of Lords, said: ‘The amendment specifically says “if they wish” – the law is permissive, not prescriptive’.
Supporting him, Baroness Noakes said: ‘When making law we should make people happy’. [This incredible statement resonates with the key-note theme of the Book of Judges: ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’.]
Too few said no
The catholic Bishop of Bradford was one of the few who stood to debate against the motion on the grounds of the Bible and sanctity of marriage; a cleric from the Church of England and an elder from the Church of Scotland stood openly in the motion’s favour. But those opposing that night were too few, and the proponents to Lord Alli’s amendment too many and too vocal.
Without giving due consideration to the threat that this law will have on churches seeking to follow conscience, nor some glaring inequalities it creates for heterosexual couples with civil marriages, the amendment was pushed through by 11.00pm on a vote of 95 to 21.
A statement from the Church Society read: ‘This latest change will create an even more difficult environment for Christians. Clergy of the established church will be under particular pressure to conduct services which they in conscience believe wrong. They may face the threat of legal action if they insist on following their conscience.
‘The recognition of civil partnerships by the State was a grave mistake and one which our nation will come to regret. In this, as in other areas, we are witnessing political leaders who are abandoning the wisdom of God in preference for the folly of man’.