The House of Lords and Religious Freedom

On 25 January the House of Lords defeated an amendment (119A) to the Equality Bill, which would have permitted religious organizations to hold civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings. The amendment, sought by Liberal Jews, Quakers and Unitarians, was defeated following a speech in which the Bishop of Winchester argued that the amendment ‘would blur the distinction between civil and religious marriage’ and would ‘blur the characteristics of the civil partnership as distinct from marriage’. (Hansard 25 Jan 2010 col. 1202) He went on to hold up the parade of horribles that would result if the pressure group Stonewall should put ‘steady and continuing pressure on, if not forcing of, the churches, the Church of England among them, to compromise on our convictions that marriage has a character that is distinct from that of a civil partnership. Churches of all sorts really should not reduce or fudge, let alone deny, that distinction.’ In a vote that followed, on a definition that the bishops opposed, the government was defeated 177-172 with eight bishops voting and therefore being decisive.

In 1927 and 1928 the House of Commons rejected a proposed revised Church of England Prayer Book, by votes of 238-205 and 266-220. Nevertheless, the Church of England was able to resist this ‘continuing pressure on, if not forcing of’ the Church of England to continue to use the same religious services in the face of actual Parliamentary pressure to do so.  In the past the church has been able to resist pressure, even when it came directly from parliament. It is perfectly capable of doing so now and should stop adopting a stance against the potential for victimisation by Stonewall.

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