Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove, has called for churches to be banned from holding marriages if they refuse to perform civil partnerships for gay couples. He says that the idea will bring more equality for gay couples.
In a letter to prime minister David Cameron (reproduced below), Mr Weatherley wrote: “As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples there will be inequality. Such behaviour is not be tolerated in other areas, such as adoption, after all. Until we untangle unions and religion in this country we will struggle to find a fair arrangement.”
Mr Weatherley said that 2005′s Civil Partnership Act was an “uneasy truce” between religious groups and gay rights campaigners and that lawmakers knew an “inherent inequality” would persist.
Hove, which neighbours Brighton, has a large gay community. The area has one of the highest rates of civil partnerships.
Ministers say they plan to move forward legislation to allow civil partnerships in religious buildings. However, the amendment in the Equality Act stresses that the choice is down to churches. While the Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Church and the Quakers as well as Liberal and Reform Judaism want to hold ceremonies for gay couples, the Catholic Church and Church of England say they will not.
When civil partnerships were legalised in 2005, the law stated that they could not be held in religious buildings, nor contain any religious language. Mr Weatherley’s comments are likely to anger religious leaders, who have claimed that even a permissive amendment could lead to them being forced to hold gay religious ceremonies.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has said that allowing churches to make their own decisions on the issue is the “decent” thing to do. He said: “Permitting faith organisations to make their own decision on whether to conduct same-sex civil partnerships is the democratic and decent thing to do. The current law prevents them from doing so, even if they want to. No religious institution will be forced to perform civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.”
Mr Weatherley’s letter:
The Rt Hon David Cameron MP – Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
21st August 2011
RE: SAME-SEX UNIONS IN THE UK
I write as Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade; a constituency which falls entirely within Brighton & Hove, the city with the most same-sex households in the UK. Like many of my constituents, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the inequality which exists between the unions of same-sex couples and those of opposite-sex couples in this country.
As you are acutely aware, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 resulted in the introduction of Civil Partnerships for same-sex couples in December 2005. There was much debate at the time and the result was undoubtedly an uneasy truce between those wishing to preserve the religious significance of marriage and those fighting for equality. Lawmakers knew at the time that an inherent inequality would still be maintained even if greater equality was being afforded to same-sex couples.
Looking back, I am sure that you would agree that it was nothing less than bizarre that same-sex couples were barred from holding their Civil Partnership ceremonies in religious venues. After all, many religious groups welcome same-sex couples. I am glad that this was reviewed and welcome the change to the arrangement earlier this year as a logical and progressive step.
Several campaigns are currently calling for, variously, the creation of a right to a Marriage for same-sex couples and the creation of a right to a Civil Partnership for opposite-sex couples. Such proposals may seemingly be the next logical step in the campaign for equality but, if enacted, would still leave us with a messy compromise. As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality. Such behaviour is not tolerated in other areas, such as adoption, after all.
I suggest that it makes little difference if unions are called Marriages, Civil Partnerships or some other term (such as simply ‘Unions’). Until we untangle unions and religion in this country, we will struggle to find a fair arrangement.
I thank you in advance for your views on the specific points within this letter.
MIKE WEATHERLEY MP