Head of civil registrars warns against allowing civil registrars to opt of marrying gay couples

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The head of the National Panel for Registration (NPR), which represents marriage registrars in England and Wales, has warned the Culture Secretary and the Minister for Women and Equalities against allowing civil registrars to opt of marrying same-sex couples.

In a letter to Maria Miller, Jacquie Bugeja, chair of the NPR, said following discussions with its representatives there was no desire for a “conscience clause” to be inserted into the same-sex marriage bill.

The position held by the NPR was “unanimous”, she said: “The objection to a conscience clause is based on registrars being local authority employees who are expected (and willing) to carry out all the functions that their role covers.

“On a daily basis, registrars deal with many scenarios that for those with strong beliefs (religious or otherwise) would possibly not be able to carry out. Examples include: registering the birth of a child from a same-sex couple: undertaking marriages for previously divorced persons; or carrying out civil ceremonies and registrations.”

Ms Bugeja added: “Registration services and, in particular the registrars, are passionate and proud about the services they deliver and the customers they work with. For the past 176 years, registrars have been carrying out their duties and have never wanted a conscience clause, and do not see the need for one now.”

In recent months several politicians including Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Williams, Northern Ireland’s former Police Ombudsman Baroness O’Loan, and Conservative MP David Burrowes, have all urged for the government to allow civil registrars to opt out of providing same-sex marriages.

But ministers have so far resisted the demands.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in February declared that registrars should not be able to opt out of performing marriages for same-sex couples because unlike religious ministers they are deemed to be public officials.

The Equality Act 2010 states that it’s illegal to refuse to provide goods and services based upon a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

In January, Lillian Ladele, a former civil registrar from Islington, north London, lost a case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Ladele had unsuccessfully argued that she should be permitted to opt out of performing civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples because of her Christian beliefs.

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

However, Baroness Williams has now re-tabled the proposal in a new amendment.

Report stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, where the latest amendments will be debated by peers, commences on Monday.