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Penny Booth: Suing the church...?

Date:5 MAR 2010

Suing the church...?

Penny BoothAn amendment to the Equality Bill voted in by the Lords on Wednesday may have some interesting results for the celebration of 'togetherness'.

 The Bishop of Winchester warned in yesterday's Times (Thursday 4 March 2010 page 17) that the vote by peers to lift the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings will have some far-reaching consequences. Among the consequences to this proposal he feels that challenges to the law might result in anti-discrimination legislation being used against those churches which do not permit such celebrations. The bishop thinks that individual clergy could be sued for discrimination if they officiate at a wedding but not at civil partnership signings in their churches.

This amendment to the law does rather undermine the claim made by many churches that marriage is special and civil partnerships are nothing more than a 'sop' to equality to make equal provision for the legal consequences of same sex relationships. Further, it is another inroad into the (original) distinction made between marriage and civil partnership. Indeed, some would say that it does confuse the differences they perceive between a wedding ceremony and the simple legal recognition of the marriage as one might find in a civil wedding that is secular.

The Government has not, so far, backed the amendment, so it may be due for some 'discussion' in the Commons, but perhaps they would not wish to risk the whole Bill by sending back the amendment? Before any further parliamentary discussion or voting it is probable that there will be consultation between the Government and church authorities on what needs to be done under these circumstances. It certainly brings into the light the existing difficulties of matching equality with freedom of conscience, particularly in an area of law where religion continues to play a major role for many.

Watch this space, as they say... especially when there could be some business in the future?

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.