Tory peers oppose civil partnerships in churches
The continuing prohibition on the use of pseudo-spiritual poems in civil ceremonies is really quite absurd: it amounts to state censorship and an enforced division between the private realm of spiritual belief and the public realm of political policy. If consenting adults wish to read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Gita, the Upinishads or a divine piece of Shakespeare as they make their vows, that should be a matter for them. We do not have a tradition of laïcité in this country, and the fundamentalist secularisation of society amounts to the systematic elimination of all religion from public life. Conservatives should see such a violation of conscience and property rights as utterly abhorrent.
If two consenting adult Muslims wish to trundle off to their local mosque to get their gay-friendly imam to pray Allah’s blessing upon their happy civil partnership, what business is that of the state? Is it not a fundamental religious liberty for the imam to adopt whatever liturgy he wishes? What business is it of the state to limit the use of religious buildings and thereby determine socio-religious orthodoxy? Having legislated for same-sex civil partnerships, it is bizarre to permit ceremonies to be performed in the Palace of Westminster while barring them from Finsbury Park Mosque. The state should have no interest other than in the licensing of partnership by which property rights may be determined in law.
However, this deregulation must be accompanied with adequate protection for the religious liberty of those who demur. Despite David Cameron’s best efforts to engineer a redefinition, civil partnerships are not marriages. The Church of England has no intention of bowing to political pressure to allow its buildings to be used to conduct same-sex civil partnerships: the Church holds a clear position that marriage is between a man and a woman. The Archbishop of Canterbury will undoubtedly be accused of ‘alienating homosexuals’ and rendering the Church ‘out of touch with society’. And no doubt Peter Tatchell will decry the injustice (while steering well clear of Finsbury Park Mosque). But it is not for politicians to coerce the Christian conscience or redefine two millennia of Christian orthodoxy. And neither is it for the Church of Jesus Christ to accommodate every passing fad and societal obsession.
Conservative peers are mindful of the inadequate protection in the regulations for churches or ministers who do not wish to register civil partnerships. As proposed, they cannot provide protection from equality legislation which is increasingly used against Christians. Further, it is local authorities which will administer the scheme, and these bodies now routinely coerce religious organisations (on pain of the withdrawal of funding) to comply with equality law, for they are themselves charged with the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. One must be sufficiently Christian to be recognisably so, but not so much so that a whiff of doctrinaire might determine one’s ethos.
The peers are led by Baroness O'Cathain, and the debate is scheduled to take place on 15th December (bizarrely, 10 days after the provision comes into effect). If the scheme is to be voluntary and consensual, the Government must ensure adequate legislative protection for those religious organisations to whom ‘gay marriage’ is inimical to their beliefs and who do not wish to accommodate religio-civil partnerships.
It is bizarre that a Conservative prime minister should seek to augment the freedom of the homosexual by curtailing the freedom of the religious. Sacred liturgy for the solemnisation of marriage is not mere words, and the institution is not merely a construct of the state. Ali and Jamal should be free to enter their mosque for the blessings of Allah to be prayed upon their happy union. But there should be no remote possibility of their dragging their recalcitrant imam into court for his refusal to do so.