Government defends gay marriage law change plans
Published: 12th Jun 2012 17:55:44
Downing Street has defended plans to change the status of civil ceremonies to allow gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales to get married.
It said it was confident safeguards to stop religious organisations being forced to take part in services would not be overturned by European courts.
The Church of England has said the move would "alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman".
Ministers plan to pass the law by 2015.
In its 11 June response to a consultation on the issue, the Church of England said plans to exempt religious organisations from performing gay marriages would be unlikely to survive legal challenges in domestic and European courts.
However, Home Secretary Theresa May has said she believes ministers can create safeguards to protect the concerns expressed by religious groups.
If the state sanctions marriage between same-sex couples, and one of those couples is deeply religious and wants their marriage ceremony to take place in a church or other place of worship, could they bring a legal challenge?
The answer is yes, and the basis is article 9 of the Human Rights Act which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Any such challenge would be likely to end up at the European Court of Human Rights and would be against the UK government's decision to legalise only gay civil marriages, and ban religious ones.
Like the blanket ban on prisoner voting, it is entirely possible that the European Court would declare the restriction unlawful.
However, critically, that would not compel religious institutions to carry out same-sex marriages.
It would be more likely to allow religious institutions to choose whether to marry gay couples, and indeed allow individuals within those institutions to choose whether to conduct religious ceremonies.
That would lead to a patchwork landscape for those seeking a same-sex religious marriage, with couples having to shop around.
It could also lead to ructions within a religion where the governing body remains against same-sex marriage, but individual members of the clergy decide that they are content to perform a religious ceremony.
"The government is not going to ask anybody to do anything that is against their conscience," she said.
"We want to ensure that we can put into place a framework that makes sure that those people who don't want to host same-sex marriages are not required to do so."
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, but the law does not allow such unions to be referred to as marriages.
The government rejected the Church of England's assertion that the consultation exercise, which closes on Thursday, was "flawed, conceptually and legally".
Downing Street said the government welcomed the submission by the Church of England and would carefully consider it.
But the prime minister's spokeswoman confirmed that the government still intended to legislate on gay marriage by the end of this parliament.
"It is the government's view that marriage is one of the most important institutions we have got," she said.
"The consultation paper makes very clear that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals."
She added that the government had taken legal advice on the likelihood of a challenge to the European court before drawing up its proposals and that Tory MPs, some of whom had expressed opposition to the plans, would be given a free vote.
Meanwhile, the National Secular Society said it was "incorrect" for the Church of England to "usurp Parliament's power" by claiming it could not redefine marriage.
Source: Home Office consultation paper
"The Church's case rests on the risible proposition that introducing same-sex civil marriage will render the Church vulnerable to a European Court forcing it to conduct same-sex religious marriages too. The freedom of religion provisions, however, would ensure this could never happen," it said.
Gay rights campaign group Stonewall described the latest concerns raised by the Church of England as "scaremongering"
The Catholic Church in England and Wales has urged people to sign an online petition organised by the Coalition for Marriage.
More than 550,000 people have so far signed the petition set up by the "umbrella group of individuals and organisations in the UK that support traditional marriage and oppose any plans to redefine it".
At 19:39:42 in EnglandThe family of a man who died, despite seven 999 calls for an ambulance, said he was failed in his "moment of need".
At 19:38:42 in SportNetherlands keeper Michel Vorm believes Louis van Gaal would be the ideal choice as Manchester United manager.
At 19:32:11 in EnglandHeathrow Airport is gearing towards the opening of its new Terminal 2 by unveiling Europe's largest privately funded sculpture.
At 19:27:52 in EnglandThe death of a 10-year-old boy who was hit by a car as he crossed the road outside his house was accidental, an inquest has heard.
At 19:13:07 in PoliticsPrivate parking firms paid more than £6m to the DVLA for the names and addresses of drivers in the past year - an increase of 28%, figures suggest.
At 19:12:17 in EnglandPoppies have been planted as part of a social media campaign to mark the First World War in Jersey.
At 19:11:22 in WalesGriff Rhys Jones has withdrawn from becoming Cardiff University's new chancellor just two weeks after an embarrassing debacle which saw his appointment halted at the last minute.
At 19:04:14 in EnglandA theatre company is hoping to have set a new world record by performing an abridged version of Shakespeare's works at more than 37,000ft (11,278m).
At 18:56:33 in WorldThe Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago, but it seems that nobody told the deer.
At 18:54:46 in EnglandA council is expanding the size of graves to accommodate obese people - and could charge extra for larger people to be buried in them.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Government defends gay marriage law change plans [Online] (Updated 12th Jun 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1434179/Government-defends-gay-marriage-law-change-plans [Accessed 23rd Apr 2014]
News In Other Categories
Portugal's chances of exiting its three-year bailout programme rose after the sale of 10-year government debt fell sharply to a record low 3.57%.
Griff Rhys Jones has withdrawn from becoming Cardiff University's new chancellor just two weeks after an embarrassing debacle which saw his appointment halted at the last minute.
Mexican writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska has received the most important award for literature in the Spanish language, the Cervantes prize.
A home security company is creating 230 jobs by expanding its operations in the Republic of Ireland.
The Iron Curtain fell 25 years ago, but it seems that nobody told the deer.
The cost of drugs is in the headlines following the decision by NHS watchdog NICE that a new cancer treatment should not be funded.