Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Equalities Bill update

The Lords tomorrow will debate Lord Alli’s amendment to the Equalities Bill (which has today been further amended) to allow Civil Partnerships to be registered in religious premises. Lord Alli’s proposal is actually in direct response to requests from some religious bodies, such as the Quakers, who do not want to be prohibited from registering Civil Partnerships on their premises. The amendment would not compel any church or religious institution to register Civil Partnerships and this has been made clear in the further clause added today:

53* Insert the following new Clause—
“(1) The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 6(1)(b) and section 6(2).
(3) In section 6A, after subsection (2), insert—
“( ) Regulations under this section may provide that premises approved for the registration of civil partnerships may differ from those premises approved for the registration of civil marriages.”
(4) In section 6A, after subsection (3), insert—
“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act places an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships if they do not wish to do so.”"

The new amendment was intended to reassure but some groups and individuals are clearly still fearful that the amendment, if passed, would alter the nature of marriage, allow individual priests to register Civil Partnerships, even if ruled out by the Church, or open the floodgates to future litigation or claims of discrimination against religious institutions.
It is hard to know how far these fears are justified, the debate tomorrow should add clarification, but nothing that will be said is likely to appease those opposed. It will be interesting, especially given the recent defeat of the Government’s attempt to clarify the employment exemptions given to religious institutions, to see what will be said and what the outcome will be.

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