Lords set to vote on civil partnerships in churches

Churches are not adequately protected by new regulations that allow civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises, Parliamentarians say.

Baroness O’Cathain in the House of Lords, and Edward Leigh MP in the House of Commons, have tabled motions to disapprove the regulations.

They say the regulations are unsafe, and some churches could be put under legal pressure if they refuse to register civil partnerships.

Refuse

One lawyer says local authorities could refuse permission for churches to host weddings unless they also agree to host civil partnership registrations.

The Government promises that churches are protected, but two separate legal opinions from Mark Hill QC and Aidan O’Neill QC say the regulations do not match the promise.

Other equality laws could be used to put churches under legal pressure, and the regulations do not take account of situations where a church does not have the final say in how its building is used.

Scrutiny

The Merits Committee of the House of Lords has drawn Peers’ attention to the regulations – something it does when there is an issue that requires close consideration.

A debate on the regulations is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords on Thursday 15 December, led by Lady O’Cathain.

The issue is expected to be voted on in the Lords, but the regulations will not be debated by the Commons.

Serious

Edward Leigh MP has told the Catholic Herald: “These regulations don’t do what the Government promised which is to protect churches that do not want to register civil partnerships.

“It is an issue of the utmost seriousness. Yet the Commons currently isn’t even being given a chance to debate them.

“We’ve seen all this before. The Sexual Orientation Regulations went through Parliament without proper scrutiny and they closed down Roman Catholic adoptions agencies as a result.

Danger

“If the Government cares anything about the churches, it will withdraw these regulations and think again.”

Neil Addison, a lawyer and religious liberty commentator, said: “The real danger is the possibility of churches being sued under the Equality Act for refusing to host civil partnerships.

“But what I think is much more likely is that local authorities will refuse to register churches for marriage unless the churches are willing to host civil partnerships.”

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