The Government gave new assurances yesterday that churches cannot be forced to hold civil partnerships against their will.
The promise came during a debate in the House of Lords on Government Regulations which allow civil partnership registrations in religious premises in England and Wales.
The debate on the Regulations, which took place on 15 December, was secured by Baroness O’Cathain. Many churches had expressed concerns that they may face legal pressure to register civil partnerships against their will.
Baroness O’Cathain pointed to legal advice exposing potential flaws in the new scheme and said her purpose in initiating the debate was “to address the widely held concerns that the Regulations threaten religious freedom.”
Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, said that the Government should have provided clearer protection from equality law.
Other Peers disputed that further legal protections were needed and insisted that no church could or should be compelled to carry out civil partnership registrations.
Responding to the debate, Home Office Minister Lord Henley said that churches which opt out of the scheme are fully safeguarded by Section 202 of the Equality Act, the legal provision which allows religious civil partnership registrations. This is the first time the Government has said that Section 202 provides this protection.
Following this new statement from the Government, Peers did not press the motion to a vote.
Many Peers said during the debate that should a church ever face legal action for refusing to register a civil partnership then the church is very likely to successfully defend itself.