New Tory head in Europe accused of ‘trying to block gay equality’

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The new head of the Conservatives in the European Parliament has been accused of trying to block a motion to call for recognition of civil partnerships across Europe.

Conservative MEP Martin Callanan, who began his new post this week, tabled amendments to a motion calling for member states to recognise legal documents, including civil partnership certificates.

Mr Callanan argued that the issue was a matter of states’ sovereignty but Labour MEPs accused him of trying to block equality.

Three amendments were tabled to the motion by Mr Callanan and Polish Law and Justice Party MEP Konrad Szymanski, who said last year his party would always vote against gay marriage and adoption.

The Polish party and the Conservatives are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

One amendment called for the deletion of a pledge to “strongly support plans to enable the mutual recognition of the effects of civil status documents” and add a reference to recognise “member states’ sovereignty in family law matters”.

The other two referred to respecting the principle of subsidiarity, or that government should not interfere more than is necessary with decisions regarding citizens.

The motion was passed without the amendments. It does not change the law but is seen as a step towards future legislation on recognition of relationships.

Arlene McCarthy MEP, Labour’s spokeswoman on the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, said: “I am shocked that a Tory MEP felt the need to table amendments to this report deleting the reference to civil partnerships.

“They seem to be saying that people in a civil partnership in the UK don’t deserve to have their partnership recognised when travelling abroad.”

Labour MEP Michael Cashman, who is gay, added: “Claims that mutual recognition will ‘undermine national sovereignty’ are plain wrong: it won’t affect national marriage or partnership laws, but simply recognise civil unions that already exist.”

Mr Callanan could not be reached for comment but a Conservative spokesman said that while the party supports civil partnerships, it does not believe the EU should force countries to recognise them.

He told “Our amendments sought to ensure that matters related to family law are decided under unanimity with all 27 countries agreeing, rather than under a Qualified Majority system where one country could find its family law altered against its will.

“We fully support civil partnerships in the United Kingdom and we hope that other countries will cooperate to ensure that such partnerships are recognised abroad. However, we do not believe that it should be the place of the European Union to dictate family law or social policy in another country.”

The Conservative Party has promised to push for international recognition of UK civil partnerships.

An equalities manifesto earlier this year said: “We will use our relationships with other countries to push for unequivocal support for gay rights and for UK civil partnerships to be recognised internationally.”

Last year, the party left its EPP grouping in the European Parliament to join the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which includes the Polish Law and Justice Party.

A number of the Polish party’s senior politicians have made homophobic statements, with the late president Lech Kaczynski banning Pride marches.

David Cameron has consistently said that the Polish party are not homophobic, although the Tories’ most senior gay MP, Nick Herbert, said in March that other parties had unsavoury European allies.

“Labour is allied with parties who have banned gay pride and called homosexuality a disease; the Liberal Democrats with a party that called it a mental disability,” he wrote in the Guardian.

He is thought to have been referring to Labour’s Bulgarian and Lithuanian allies, and to the Lib Dems’ Latvian and Lithuanian allies.