The Government’s controversial and far-reaching Equality Bill passed its remaining stages in the Lords this week while concerns about its impact on religious liberty persist.
The Government tidied up Lord Alli’s amendments that allow civil partnership registrations to be held in churches.
But an amendment aimed at rescuing faith-based adoption agencies from being closed down by homosexual equality laws did not get voted on.
The Commons is expected to approve the Lords changes and the Bill looks set to become law ahead of the General Election.
In the Lords on 2 March Lord Alli successfully proposed amendments that allow churches to hold homosexual civil partnership registrations.
On Tuesday the Government successfully passed changes to remedy the many legal deficiencies in the wording of Lord Alli’s original amendments.
As a result there is now provision for denominations such as the Church of England to be able to prevent rogue ministers going against Church policy and registering civil partnerships in a church.
The Conservative spokesman, Baroness Morris, raised concerns about whether independent churches could be sued for refusing to take up the new legal powers to register civil partnerships.
Responding for the Government, the Leader of the Lords Baroness Royall said it is “not possible to bring a claim for discrimination” in these circumstances.
The Christian Institute has obtained legal advice that a claim could be brought, but that there are strong legal arguments available to churches which mean they should be able to successfully defend themselves.
The new provisions will not come into force immediately. Regulations must be agreed first.
Experienced observers believe this could take some time because of the complexities involving marriage law, together with the many different types of religious bodies that are likely to be affected.
The Government promised there would be “extensive consultation” which would include faith groups.
Also on Tuesday an amendment aimed at rescuing faith-based adoption agencies from being closed down by homosexual equality laws did not get voted on.
The Leader of the Lords, Baroness Royall, told Peers that the amendment should not be debated for procedural reasons. Peers who supported the amendment were unable to vote on it.
The Government’s Sexual Orientation Regulations, passed in 2007, have caused all but two of the 13 Roman Catholic adoption agencies in the country to become entirely secular or to close completely.
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said: “I’m pleased that the Equality Bill has completed its Third Reading in the House of Lords and I want to thank our ministers in the Upper Chamber, Jan Royall and Glenys Thornton, for their hard work and commitment in steering it through to this stage.”
She added: “I look forward to it taking its place on the statute books following further scrutiny by the House of Commons, but that will not be the end of the story. After the Bill is passed we will set to work implementing and enforcing it, putting equality firmly at the centre of Government.”