Lords Rennard, Carlile, and Lester, with Lynne Featherstone, defend rules on religious civil partnerships

The House of Lords yesterday dismissed fears surrounding new regulations allowing religious institutions to celebrate same-sex civil partnerships on their premises. Some campaigners hard argued that such rules could force them to do so against their will, an argument that was laid to rest by Peers. In doing so, they gave the green light to liberal religious organisations to allow same-sex couples to register their civil partnerships under their auspices.

The Lords debated Conservative Peer Lady O’Cathain’s motion to have new regulations on civil partnerships delayed because of fears that equality campaigners could use the Equality Act 2010 or the Human Rights Act 1998 to force religious organisations into honouring their civil partnerships against the organisations’ will. These concerns were comprehensively dismissed by, amongst others, Lib Dem peers who gave assurances that nobody would be forced to perform same-sex civil partnerships should they not wish to. The assurances given were enough for the motion to be withdrawn.

Commenting, Lord Rennard said

The debate today made clear that there was no real merit in the argument advanced that religious organisations could be forced against their will into allowing civil partnerships to be conducted on their premises. It is probably not a co-incidence that those peers who tried to construe a legal argument to this effect seemed to be those most opposed to the principles of civil partnerships.

While Lynne Featherstone also welcomed the withdrawal of Lady O’Cathain’s motion, which was restricted to the rules on civil partnerships, she made it clear that she wanted the government to go further:

I look forward to working equally constructively with all interested people and organisations as we move ahead with the Coalition Government’s plan to open up marriage to same-sex couples. Our commitment to equality runs deep, as next year’s consultation on equal marriage will show.

A heartening episode for those interested in the equal treatment of same-sex couples who want to celebrate their love for each other, and another example of Lib Dem Parliamentarians standing up for freedom and equality.

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