Amendments urging for civil registrars to opt out of equal marriage ceremonies withdrawn from bill

Several amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill seeking to allow civil registrars to opt out of providing same-sex marriages have been withdrawn.

Amendments 16, 17, 18 and 19 concerned “freedom of expression” – but supporters warned they threatened to undermine existing anti-discrimination measures for same-sex couples.

Equal marriage opponent Baroness O’Loan, Northern Ireland’s former Police Ombudsman, had argued that the Equality Act needed to be amended to protect freedom of speech.

In the Upper Chamber she argued against equal marriage, citing procreation, consummation and children as the tenets of “traditional marriage”.

In response, Labour peer Baroness Royall said the bill needed no amendment for “protection against compulsion”.

She added: “The Equality Act is a very carefully crafted piece of legislation.”

Conservative peer Baroness Berridge said that not allowing an opt-out could force churches to divert funds from food banks to fighting in court.

Baroness O’Loan agreed to withdraw her proposed Amendment 13 on Wednesday evening.

Peers have now moved on to debate plans for humanist weddings as part of the bill.

An amendment for humanist weddings was withdrawn in the Commons last month.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve warned that it would fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as any “belief organisation” would be able to claim they were being discriminated against if they weren’t able to perform marriages.