David Cameron’s plans to redefine marriage leave the Church of England open to legal challenge under human rights law, a leading lawyer has warned.
Under proposals laid out by the Government, the established church will have an exemption from carrying out same-sex marriages.
But because the Church of England has a legal obligation to marry anyone in their local parish the exemption is “eminently challenge-able” in the European Court of Human Rights, Aidan O’Neill QC has said.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has sent a copy of Aidan O’Neill’s legal opinion to the Prime Minister.
Lord Carey said the plans to redefine marriage are “divisive”, without a mandate and “poorly thought-out”.
He also commented that the plans will lead to “serious and wide-ranging conflict between religious institutions and local authorities” and argued that the legal advice “demonstrates why the legislation is unworkable”.
In the legal opinion Mr O’Neill also warned that councils may be able to bar a church that says they only marry a man and a woman from hiring a community centre.
He said a Christian teacher would have to give lessons on homosexual relationships if told to do so or else this would constitute grounds for their dismissal.
And parents who ask for their child to be excused from classes about the history of ‘homosexual rights’ would have “no such enforceable right”, Mr O’Neill pointed out.
The Daily Mail was told by a Government source: “It is precisely because the Church of England has a legal duty to marry that we have created a legal lock to ensure this doesn’t apply to same-sex couples.”
The newspaper also reported Downing Street saying the Prime Minister would “press ahead” with the plans over the next month and that Number 10 “has legal advice of our own”.
Aidan O’Neill’s legal opinion was commissioned by Coalition for Marriage (C4M) – a group which is currently urging voters in dozens of marginal seats across the country to lobby their MPs against the Government’s plans for same-sex marriage.
Activists from C4M will be delivering leaflets as part of a drive to target 65 key seats over coming weeks.