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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
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
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.
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
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
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 position of the
established church requires separate consideration from
that of non-established churches or religious bodies.
bodies which are otherwise licensed by the State to perform
(legally binding) marriages (for example a Baptist
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
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.