The House of Lords has voted to allow civil partnerships on religious premises:
The amendment to the Equality Bill, which was tabled as a free vote by gay Muslim peer Waheed Alli, received overwhelming backing in the Lords, including from a number of prominent Anglican bishops.
Under current UK law religious venues are forbidden from holding civil partnerships, although some liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism have been willing to bless gay unions once a partnership ceremony has taken place elsewhere.
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.”
No doubt the religious fundamentalist set will denounce this as an anti-religious move, but as Alli points out this, if approved by the Commons (and how appalling would it be if the Commons struck this down?), would allow civil partnerships on religious premises, not demand them. It’s amazing how often the devoutly religious wilfully mix the the two up, but the distinction is pretty important because it’s about religious freedom for all. As Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill says:
‘We’ve argued throughout that this is an important matter of religious freedom. Ministers have known for some months that we intended to table this measure and we regret that the Government didn’t stand up to the bullying it faced from some churches on this issue. We’ll now work closely with ministers to ensure that we secure implementation of this further step towards equality. This vote is hugely important to those gay people of faith (and, as Lady Neuberger pointed out, to their Jewish mothers too!) who wish to celebrate their civil partnerships in their own place of worship.’
It should have been unthinkable to have had a ban in the first place. Why any religion should have the freedom to discriminate based purely on the grounds of the bigoted beliefs of some, is beyond me. But this government has kowtowed incessantly towards the religious lobby, and in the run-up to the general election will no doubt continue to do so. Remember civil partnerships are still only for gay people, and marriage is only for straight people. In a European Union where even Catholic Spain has marriage equality I fail to comprehend why Britain’s inequality is allowed to continue.
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