CofE gay marriage ban ‘illegal’ says leading lawyer

Tue, 29 Jan 2013

The Government’s attempt to prevent the Church of England performing same-sex marriages could be illegal under European law, a leading human rights lawyer has said.

Last month, equalities minister Maria Miller announced as part of plans to redefine marriage, that the established Church in England would be unable to conduct gay marriages unless canon law was changed.

But Aidan O’Neill QC, an expert on EU and human rights law, has warned that the move could be illegal.

Challengeable

He said the ban is “eminently challengeable from a human rights perspective and may well not stand up to scrutiny”.

Mr O’Neill points out in his legal opinion that the Church of England has a legal duty to conduct weddings for anyone legally entitled to marry.

And if same-sex couples are denied this right, the Church could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights.

Powerless

Maria Miller said that if they wanted to, other churches and religious institutions could perform gay marriages.

Last week, a source close to the Education Secretary Michael Gove revealed that the Government would be powerless to stop headteachers firing staff who refuse to endorse same-sex marriage.

This fits with Mr O’Neill’s previous legal advice on the marriage proposals.

Lobby

His opinion was prepared for campaign group Coalition for Marriage, who are distributing more than two million leaflets to 65 constituencies urging people to lobby their MP to oppose the Bill.

Up to 140 MPs are expected to vote against same-sex marriage in the House of Commons on 5 Februrary.

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