Here in the UK, full recognition of gay marriage just came another step closer. This development yesterday took me totally by surprise:
Parliament votes to recognise religious same-sex partnerships
In a dramatic development, the House of Lords has voted to allow the use of religious premises and religious language in same-sex partnerships.
Sitting yesterday evening (2 March), peers voted in favour of the proposal by 95 votes to 21, despite opposition from the government and several Church of England bishops.
The current law on same-sex civil partnerships prohibits religious elements. Campaigners point out that this means that whereas a mixed-sex couple can choose between a civil or religious wedding, a same-sex couple are denied this choice.
The proposal, which takes the form of an amendment to the Equality Bill, was put forward by Waheed Alli, who is a gay Muslim and Labour peer. The government have agreed to work with Alli to redraft the amendment, ensuring that the principle is incorporated into the Bill.
Here is some context:
- Under current UK law, one of the few important differences between civil partnerships and full civil marriage is that the former are prohibited from using religious premises or language. If this legislation takes effect, as now seems likely, the main remaining distinction will be just the name.
- When the Civil Partnership legislation first took effect, it was widely accepted as near marriage, with very little expressed discontent. In the years since, there have been growing calls for its extension to full marriage. With a general election due within months, mainstream political parties have been jostling to be seen as the most gay-friendly. The Conservatives, now leading in the polls, were once the most strongly opposed to gay rights, but now even some of their spokesmen are promising to introduce full recognition for same sex marriage
- Three different religious groups have asked for the right to perform religious same sex unions or marriages.
- The vote in the House of Lords is important symbolically, but has less direct impact. Legislation will get nowhere without the active support of the more important lower house, the House of Commons. Still, this puts pressure on government to act, and it seems they have agreed to accept and incorporate the principle into the final legislation
From the Independent:
The lifting of the ban, which still needs to be approved by the House of Commons, will now give religious venues the option of conducting civil partnerships – but it will not compel them to do so, as some traditionalists had feared.
Lord Alli denied the suggestion that religious communities would be forced to accept gay marriages.
“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants,” he said. “This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”
As elsewhere, full marriage equality is coming, it’s just a matter of timing. Here, that timing may be quite soon.
- Gay Marriage, UK: The Legal Challenge Begins (rooting-for-gay-marriage.blogspot.com)
- UK Queer Christians Support Marriage Equality Campaign. (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- Straight Couple Denied Civil Partnership (gayrights.change.org)
- Yet more evidence that the State should get out of the marriage business (khanya.wordpress.com)
- 10 Modern Marriage & Civil Partnership Vows (socyberty.com)