Conservative Peers attempt to derail legislation
Publish Date: 21/11/2011
Civil Partnerships on religious premises looked set to become a reality by Christmas with extensive cross party support, but their progress through parliament has been halted by Conservative Peers led by Baroness O'Cathain, who last week lodged a prayer to annul in opposition of the legislation.
Baroness O’Cathain is well known for her socially conservative views and opposition to lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, and has used the archaic prayer to annul to derail the legislation’s progress through parliament.
The prayer to annul triggers a debate in the House of Lords, and then a vote. If the Lords back Baroness O’Cathain and her supporters and vote in favour of the prayer it will kill the motion and stop the legislation – meaning that the ban on Civil Partnerships on religious premises will remain.
Baroness O’Cathain and her supporters argue that the new law would not properly protect faith groups from being "compelled" to register civil partnerships against their beliefs.
Paul Martin O.B.E, Chief Executive of the Lesbian & Gay Foundation said, “Just when we thought that same-sex couples would be enjoying their commitment to one another being legally recognised on religious premises by the end of the year, this happens, it’s a real blow for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality.”
“It’s really important to highlight that this legislation does not force or compel religious establishments to offer Civil Partnerships, it simply gives religious establishments who wish to perform civil partnerships the opportunity to do so.”
“This move highlights that opponents of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality will use any legislation to try and derail the legislative process.”
“We hope this group is a minority voice in this debate, as the House of Lords becomes more diverse and the advocates of equality. It’s vital that the House of Lords vote for progress and back Civil Partnerships in religious premises.”
“The LGF are contacting the members of the House of Lords and we encourage you the public to take action and lobby the members of the House of Lords to vote for equality too. We as a community – and our supporters - must use our voices and our rights to safeguard our protections and move equality forward.”
A debate will now be scheduled in the House of Lords – which could take until March 2012 to happen – followed by a vote.
Baroness O’Cathain – a Conservative peer – and her supporters appear out of step with their own party, it’s government policy to talk openly in support of Civil Partnerships in religious premises and gay marriage.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron referenced the Conservative Party’s support for gay marriage in his keynote speech at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, and a consultation on same-sex civil marriage has been scheduled for next year.
Throughout her Lords career the Baroness has voted strongly against gay rights, in particular her efforts to retain the ban on same-sex couples from adopting.
In 2004 she was responsible for bringing a "wrecking amendment" to the Civil Partnership Bill, and lodged an amendment to extend the eligibility for Civil Partnership to blood relatives who had lived together for a minimum period of time. Worryingly, the Lords voted in favour of the amendment.
However, the House of Commons later removed this amendment and sent the revised Civil Partnership Bill back to the Lords for reconsideration. The Lords decided to accept the Commons version and the Bill became law.
If the Lords do back Baroness O’Cathain again, it could be that the Parliament Act is used as a last resort –it has been used to pass legislation against the wishes of the House of Lords before.
Baroness O’Cathain and her supporters' objection now means that Civil Partnerships on religious premises are not going to be as straight forward as first appeared, and that lesbian, gay and bisexual communities now have another fight on their hands in the movement towards full equality, not to mention the faith communities who are supportive and want to offer Civil Partnerships on their religious premises.