UK Lawmakers Act to Repeal Ban on Religious Marriage for Gays
Though gay and lesbian families enjoy civil partnerships in the U.K., they have not been allowed under law to celebrate their unions with religious ceremonies--even if their faith is open and affirming. That is set to change now that the House of Lords has voted to overturn the restriction.
The vote, which took place on March 2, passed 95-21, and was hailed by GLBT equality advocates. Peter Tatchell, the leader of OutRage!, issued a statement on the vote, calling it "another advance for gay equality and religious freedom," a press release from the group said.
"Allowing faith organizations to make their own decisions on whether to conduct same-sex civil partnerships is the democratic and decent thing to do," Tatchell continued. "By banning religious civil partnerships, the current law is denying religious bodies the right to treat gay couples equally. It is forcing them to discriminate, even when many of them do not want to.
"The Quakers, Unitarians, Metropolitan Community Church and liberal synagogues wish to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and should be allowed to do so," Tatchell pointed out, going on to note that, "Following a change in the law, we expect civil partnerships will be conducted by gay-affirmative religions, including the Unitarians and Quakers, and some Anglican churches and liberal synagogues."
Even as lawmakers are moving toward true family parity, opinion polls show that the country is ready to embrace gay and lesbian families as fully equal to heterosexual unions. An article from last June 27 in UK newspaper The Times showed that a solid majority--61%--were in favor of full and equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian families.
Moreover, in stark contrast to the United States, where marriage equality has been rescinded in two states after anti-gay activists aired ads claiming that children would be taught about gay families in school, a majority in the U.K.--51%--approve of students learning about non-heterosexual households.
Moreover, an even greater majority--68%--say that GLBTs should have "full equal rights" that put them on the same footing in society and before the law.
With public opinion so solidly in favor of equal rights for the U.K.’s gay and lesbian citizens, the article said, religious denominations that sought to impose restrictions on the liberties of GLBTs were looking "out of touch."
Indeed, religious conservatives were displeased at the vote, worrying that churches would eventually be forced to provide marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples even if they are doctrinally opposed to intimate, committed life partnerships between people of the same gender. A March 3 article in U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail reported that the Church of England remains in opposition to marriage equality, and noted that the Pope, who had recently criticized British anti-discrimination laws, would likely denounce the vote.
The article also reported that openly gay lawmaker Waheed Alli had proposed the change. Alli said that the law sis not represent an "attack" on any religious institution, but rather upheld the freedom of everybody. "Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants," Alli told the media, adding that the change "does not place an obligation on any religious organization to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples that want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organizations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that."
Lord Harries, who previously was the Bishop of Oxford, saw the change as liable to shore up the family, rather than harm it. "It actually strengthens marriage," said Harries. "The real enemy in our society is promiscuity, not permanent faith-based relationships."
But conservatives were not convinced. "The fundamental difficulty that many churches and faiths will have with this arguments is that we, like the Government and the courts, have been quite clear ever since civil partnerships were introduced that they are not the same as marriage," said the Rt. Rev. David James, the Bishop of Bradford.
"It is a step towards forcing churches to conduct same-sex unions that would go against their beliefs," declared the Christian Legal Center’s Andrea Williams. "Changing the law will further blur the distinction between marriage and what the Government put forward as a purely secular ceremony."
The measure still needs a vote from the House of Commons, where it is expected to pass.