Exclusive: Philip Hammond: Government’s marriage reforms don’t protect faith groups

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Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says he hasconcerns about the robustness of the protections for religious organisations” in the government’s proposed equal marriage bill – he also faces an equal marriage protest at the University of London Royal Holloway on Friday.

The Conservative MP for Runnymede and Weybridge in Surrey first went public about his opposition to the measure in May of last year when he said equal marriage was “too controversial”.

Mr Hammond is due to visit the University of London in Egham on Friday and a protest is planned by students in order to encourage the MP to change his position on marriage equality.

Last Tuesday, Mr Hammond further expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage in a written response to a student. He said:

My position on this is, I believe, well known and has been widely reported in the national media. I believe that the introduction of civil partnerships has removed the elements of practical discrimination that existed against those in same-sex relationships, allowing them to access, for example, the tax benefits that married couples enjoy. I do not believe there is a compelling reason to prioritise legislation to go further at the present time and I have concerns about the robustness of the protections for religious organisations that are being put in place with the best of intentions.

The prime minister has made clear that all Conservative MPs (including cabinet minister) will have a free vote on this issue and I do not intend to support the legislation when it is placed before the House of Commons.

In response, the University of London Royal Holloway Students’ Union have passed a motion to lobby the MP.

Students intend to greet Mr Hammond with banners and signs as soon as he enters the university campus on Friday, one student suggested a same-sex couples’ kissing flash-mob.

The President of the Students Union, Doug German, said: “The Students’ Union of Royal Holloway believes fundamentally in the equal rights of our members. The LGBT+ community has waited long enough for their rights to be recognised in the same way as heterosexual couples. We believe that as our MP, Phillip Hammond should listen to those in his constituency and vote in favour of equality.”

The government is due to introduce its equal marriage bill for England and Wales in parliament by the end of this month.

It will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry gay couples, or to opt-in to do so.

The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations for refusing to marry gay couples (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose).