Sunday, 27 November 2011

Religious Civil Partnerships: Group Rights Versus Individual Rights

On December 15th, the question of allowing civil partnership ceremonies to have a religious character will be debated in the House of Lords. Baroness O’Caithan and her allies state they wish to protect religious organisations from being forced to hold civil partnerships under equality laws. And to do this they will attempt to ensure religious civil partnerships cannot go ahead.

I'm no fan of religious civil partnerships and I find equality laws often do more harm than good, but I can't feel even a modicum of sympathy for this political maneuver in the Lords. It's fairly obvious that if the problem is equality law making it more likely some churches will face legal action for not holding civil partnerships then the simple thing to do is to amend those laws offering them an even clearer opt-out than has already been suggested. This is yet another wreaking motion from O'Caithan and the other homophobes in the Lords designed not to protect religious freedom but to fight LGBT freedom at every turn.

Here we have a clear case of group rights (for the LGBT community) that are protected by law being used in a way that was unintended but pretty predictable. The individual members of the LGBT community suffer. Religious freedom and sexual freedom needn't be mutually exclusive, but sadly the Equality Act appears to be forcing a choice of one over the other. So let's amend it, and make sure people who want their civil partnerships blessed by Thor or any other diety can do so without forcing any religious organisation to do something that goes against their beliefs.

We already have one religious impediment to marriage equality (the implications for the Church of England mean religious marriage equality is extremely unlikely whilst it remains our established church), but if the Lords overturn religious civil partnerships we'll have another major issue to overcome when the consultation begins in March. Let's hope the Lords see sense and throw out this blatant attempt to undermine religious freedom and LGBT equality next month.

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