2 June 2013

Gay marriage betrays family values, Tories warn David Cameron:

David Cameron's determination to legalise gay marriage is a betrayal of family values that threatens to destroy the heart of the Conservative Party, Tory activists have warned.
By Peter Dominiczak, and Edward Malnick
In a letter published in The Sunday Telegraph, the Conservative Grassroots group said the Prime Minister had “no solid evidence” behind his support for same-sex marriage and that he was “alienating” Tory supporters. It will come as a major blow to Mr Cameron, who has tried to placate activists by insisting that he will stop concentrating on policies such as same-sex marriage and instead focus on the “big picture” issues of the economy and education.
Same-sex marriage was approved by MPs last week after Mr Cameron was forced into a deal with Labour to beat a Tory back-bench attempt to derail it. However, it will have to overcome significant resistance when it comes before the House of Lords this week. Peers from all main parties will unite in an attempt to block the legislation.
More than 85 have asked to speak in the debate, forcing the Government to carry over the vote to a second day so it does not take place in the early hours when far fewer peers would be present.
In the letter, Bob Woollard, the chairman of Conservative Grassroots, calls on peers to “defend our freedoms” by opposing the Bill. Mr Woollard said: “The Prime Minister believes that enabling same-sex couples to get married will strengthen — not weaken — family ties. In fact, all the evidence from countries that have introduced this legislation over the last 10 years shows that marriage is further devalued in the eyes of all and the tie between marriage and bringing up of children is seriously weakened.”
Conservative Grassroots has been lobbying peers and hopes to convince several Tory grandees to vote against the Bill. “Your long-serving party members — many of whom have had the responsibility of bringing up children themselves — believe that the family lies at the heart of Conservative values,” Mr Woollard added. “The golden inheritance of every previous generation, that has been lovingly handed down to us, is being smashed on the anvil of 'equality and fairness’.”
Fears about the Bill will also be raised by a warning from Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former lord chancellor, over the Queen’s involvement in enacting new legislation.
Lord Mackay was asked at an event hosted by the Theos think tank whether, in light of the Church of England’s opposition, signing the Bill might put the Queen in breach of her Coronation Oath.
Lord Mackay, who opposes same-sex marriage, said that ministers should ensure any legislation was consistent with the Queen’s promise. He said: “The Queen under our constitutional arrangements is expected to act in accordance with the advice of her ministers, given ultimately through the Prime Minister. The idea of the Coronation Oath was that it would never be in conflict with that advice and therefore it is the responsibility of the ministers of the Crown to see that whatever advice they give is consistent with the proper construction of the Coronation Oath.”
Addressing an audience in London last month, the peer added: “My hope is that a contradiction between what is advised and what was sworn should never arise.”
Read here
An alliance of religious leaders has also warned in a letter that same-sex marriage will “devalue the meaning of marriage”. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders, including Bishop Michael Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Bristol, and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a former head of the Muslim Council of Britain, all urged Mr Cameron to rethink the legislation.
http://www.anglican- mainstream.net/2013/06/01/gay- marriage-betrays-family- values-tories-warn-david- cameron/

The Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill and the Quadruple Lock

June 1st, 2013 Posted in News | Edit | Comments Off
by Rebecca Hunt, Barrister
In an attempt to calm fears that churches and other religious institutions will be forced to perform gay marriages, the government has given four legal assurances, which it hopes will mean British courts and the European Court of Human Rights cannot be used to challenge decisions not to conduct gay marriages. Culture Secretary Maria Miller MP stated the government’s overriding aim which is “that if any Church, Synagogue or Mosque does not want to conduct a gay marriage it will not be forced to hold it”. I make the following preliminary observations:
·       The fact that four separate legal assurances are considered to be required indicates the complexity of the issues of religious freedom raised by the Marriage (Same-sex couples) Bill.
·       The government did not appear to be aware of the need for them until after the consultation process was carried out.
·       It seems inevitable that legal challenges will be brought that attempt to “test” the position, with all the attendant consequences, even if they ultimately fail.
·       The European Convention on Human Rights is treated as a “living instrument”, the understanding of which alters over time in accordance with European consensus, and further the Strasbourg Court is not bound by precedent. The combination of these two factors mean that future decisions of the Court based on the Convention cannot be predicted with any certainty.
·       The legal assurances only address the limited question of the position of ministers of religion at the time when the wedding is performed. They do nothing to address the unenviable position of those with a conscientious objection to same-sex marriage who work in the public sector such as chaplains, foster carers, registrars and teachers, who will risk demotion or dismissal for failing to embrace the new definition of marriage at work. This has been amply demonstrated already before any change in the law has even taken place.
The four legal assurances (or “quadruple lock”) are as follows. The government says that it will:
1.     ensure that no religious organisation or individual minister can be forced to marry same sex couples or be forced to permit this to happen on their premises;
2.     create an “opt-in” system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same sex couples;
3.     amend the Equalities Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry same-sex couples;
4.     ensure that legislation will not affect canon law of the Church of England (the set of rules governing the practices and faith of Anglican churches) or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either Church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and changes to canon law.
The basic current position under European law is that the European convention does not convey the right to marry to same-sex couples. However, if a state does legislate for the right to marry regardless of sex or gender, then the full panoply of non-discrimination law applies to prevent any discrimination between same and opposite sex couples (in particular articles 12 and 14 of the ECHR).
The position of the established church requires separate consideration from that of non-established churches or religious bodies.
Non-established religious bodies which are otherwise licensed by the State to perform (legally binding) marriages (for example a Baptist Church)
On the basis of current position, it seems likely that the proposed law would survive a challenge in relation to these bodies, as the protections of article 9 ECHR (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion) would probably render the decision to allow these bodies to “opt out” of conducting same-sex marriages within a state’s so called “margin of appreciation” (the leeway given to individual states to make decisions within their borders). The effect of this would be it seems unlikely that a Baptist Church that is currently licensed to perform marriages would be able to be forced to conduct same-sex marriages under the new law. However, the position in relation to premises not yet so licensed is an open one. Further, it is unclear whether any right to conscientious objection by individual celebrants in denominations who have “opted in” to same-sex marriage would survive a legal challenge in the European Court.
The established church (Church of England and Church in Wales)
Persons who are legally entitled to marry one another under the general law have the right to be married in an Anglican church, should they so wish. Under the Marriage (Same Sex) Marriage Bill couples of the opposite sex will retain this right, but same-sex couples will be denied it. This distinction is eminently challengeable under human rights law as amounting to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation under article 14 ECHR, and may well not stand up to scrutiny in Strasbourg. The government will not be able to rely on the protections afforded by article 9 ECHR in this instance since the Church of England (and the Church in Wales) operate as an arm of the state in the solemnisation of marriages, and as such cannot claim before the courts the protection of its own convention rights.
The government is wrong in alleging that the exemptions offered are of the same kind as that in relation to divorce, which operates to allow a member of the Anglican Clergy to refuse to solemnise a marriage of a person who has been divorced, but also allows an Anglican Clergyman without such objections to solemnise a marriage in the same circumstances. This is in contrast to the blanket ban currently proposed.
If a successful challenge were to be brought in Strasbourg to the “Anglican marriage exemption” then the only options would be either for the government to abolish the exemption and require the Church of England to carry out same-sex weddings, or to remove the general right of people to marry in their local parish church (a partial disestablishment).
Finally, it is worth noting that neither of the two top government lawyers voted for the Bill in the House of Commons.
Rebecca Hunt
30 May 2013

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