MPs move to strike down religious civil partnership rules

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A small group of MPs is echoing calls made in the House of Lords that new regulations for civil partnerships may force places of worship to marry gay couples alongside straight ones.

Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough said the House of Commons was not able to debate the regulations properly.

The Catholic backbencher has tabled an Early Day Motion, signed by four other MPs, requesting that the regulations be annulled.

The argument employed echoes that which will be used in the House of Lords this month to try to strike down the new rules.

While regulations specifically protect the rights of religious institutions not to perform civil partnership ceremonies if they so wish, it is claimed that they do not make allowances for the different ways in which churches are structured, and do not protect against over-arching principles of the Equality Act 2010.

The removal of the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in religious institutions was approved by the Lords last year as the ‘Alli amendment’ to the Equality Act.

In February, Equalities Minister Lynne Feathersone MP addressed the concern Mr Leigh has raised, saying: “Obviously there is a degree of anxiety from some of the religious organisations.

“In the words of the Act itself, it says explicitly, for the avoidance of doubt, that there is nothing in this Act which placed an obligation on religious organisations to host civil partnerships unless they wish to do so.”

But Mr Leigh argues that the regulations fall short.

Mr Leigh told the Catholic Herald: “These regulations don’t do what the Government promised which is to protect churches that do not want to register civil partnerships. It is an issue of the utmost seriousness. Yet the Commons currently isn’t even being given a chance to debate them.

“We’ve seen all this before. The Sexual Orientation Regulations went through Parliament without proper scrutiny and they closed down our adoptions agencies as a result. If the Government cares anything about the churches, it will withdraw these regulations and think again.”

The Early Day Motion could see a Commons committee formed to analyse the effect of the regulations, and if necessary, the Government could then allow a vote in the House.

The House of Lords will debate the issue on 15 December and will be allowed a free vote on the issue.

Mr Leigh has consistently voted against equal rights for gays, opposing the equal age of consent, protection against discrimination and the original civil partnership legislation.

Earlier this year, he spoke of his “astonishment” that gay marriage could be considered by the government.

Writing for about dissent among the House of Lords last month, Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said peers making this argument to oppose the regulations “are using the pretext of there not being enough safeguards as an excuse. Fundamentally, they still do not believe in equality, in live and let live.