Saturday, 3 December 2011

Daily Mail's Disingenuous Spin On Marriage Equality

There was some late, but good, news last night on the current religious freedom question regarding religious civil partnerships. 

Further to attempts in the Lords, and then in the Commons, to overturn the new religious civil partnership regulations the Church of England made an announcement. The premise of the criticism of their Lordships to the proposals was the possibility that provisions in the Equality Act might force all organisations carrying out marriages to also carry out civil partnerships regardless of whether they wish to or not. 

Groups including the Christian Institute, CARE and the Evangelical Alliance have made submissions to the Committee which suggest organisations will be required to register under a broader obligation on public authorities to eliminate discrimination, despite a specific provision in the regulations and the Equality Act 2010 designed to prevent this. 

The Committee published an opinion given by Mark Hill QC, an honorary professor at the Centre for Law and Religion, Cardiff University, which said the new regulations may fail in their aim to avoid obligation by not providing protection from the “all-pervading public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010″.
However lawyers working on behalf of the Church of England last night stated that this was not a concern and based on this advice have today said they will not be sanctioning religious civil partnerships in any of their churches. (Whilst also giving a nod to fact civil partnerships and marriages AREN'T the same thing, thanks CoE!)

An analysis distributed by the Church says because civil partnerships and marriages are separate legal concepts, it is “clear” the Equality Act 2010 cannot be invoked to force a religious institution to perform both. 

The Church says: “A gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes. A children’s book shop is not required to stock books that are intended for adults. 

“And a Church that provides a facility to marry is not required to provide a facility to same-sex couples for registering civil partnerships.”
This should take the wind out of the sails of the Westminister politicians trying to derail the civil partnership regulations by foul means. 

However it bodes ill for the prospects for religious marriage equality in the future. The Equality Act could be used to force unwilling ministers to perform same-sex marriage if religious marriage equality ever came into being. This is a very serious matter and obviously clearly puts a hurdle in the way of future reform unless the Equality Act can be reformed to protect religious freedom whilst ensuring liberty for religious organisations wanting to perform such marriages. 

And this is where we come to the Daily Mail's rather disingenuous spin on the news. Let's get one thing straight; the upcoming consultation on marriage equality is not about whether religious marriage equality should be brought in. Nor is it about whether civil marriage equality should be brought it. It's rather pathetic remit is simply to discuss how CIVIL marriage equality should be implemented. 

The Daily Mail choose to state, based on a small note about the dangers of marriage equality overriding religious freedom by the Church of England's lawyers,  

"Church 'may have to offer gay weddings' if Cameron's plans given go-ahead"  

David Cameron and his Coalition Government currently have no plans whatsoever regarding religious marriage equality.  This claim by the Daily Mail, based on quite understandable concerns regarding religious freedom, is nothing but a lie. Not a misunderstanding, but a lie. And it's all done to scaremonger among the religious thus harming the chances of constructive debate between religious organisations and LGBT campaigners in the hopes of ensuring neither must give up their liberties for the other.

I'm not going to say there aren't LGBT campaigners out there looking to force churches to marry them. There are. There's even a Tory MP who thinks the same! But that's not the majority opinion and even we are to regard religions as private clubs I've no problem defending their right to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. The rhetoric on this from the right wing MPs, Lords and anti-marriage campaigners is not helping defend religious freedom but serving only to stop some much needed discussion on these important matters.

Poor show from the Daily Mail. As always.

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