Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Lords vote to lift ban on civil partnership faith ceremonies

The House of Lords voted by 95 votes to 21 to lift the ban on civil partnership ceremonies in churches and other religious premises last night.

Curiously, the leading frontbenchers from both sides spoke against the cross-party amendment, though then abstained in the free vote on the measure. It is very likely that the measure would pass with a large Commons majority on a free vote.

The Times reports:

Lord Alli’s cross-party amendment was co-sponsored by Tory finance spokesman Baroness Noakes, retired judge and crossbench peer Baroness Butler-Sloss and crossbencher Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.

Supporters included the former Bishop of Oxford, crossbencher Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and Liberal Democrat rabbi Baroness Neuberger.

Leading opponents of the amendment included Tory former Cabinet ministers Lord Tebbit and Lord Waddington.

Lords Leader Baroness Royall of Blaisdon and Tory equality spokesman Baroness Morris of Bolton, a Roman Catholic, both spoke against the amendment but later abstained.

The amendment has yet to be approved by the Commons, but it is unlikely that MPs would make any significant changes to it.

A spokesman for the Government Equalities Office said: “Baroness Royall made the Government’s position clear during the debate; we’re now considering our position and deciding what steps to take next.”

The Christian group Ekklesia, which welcomes the reform, has a report and round-up of reaction.

The religious liberty case for the reform has been made by Stuart White here on Next Left; links and background can be found on my letter to Harriet Harman, published at Liberal Conspiracy.


Stuart White said...

Thanks for the report, Sunder, and for all your other posts on the topic. I am obviously delighted.

I have no idea why the frontbenches opposed the amendment. The intellectual/moral case is so straightforward. I hope to find the time later to look at Hansard and see what the arguments were....

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks and congratulations to you and everybody else involved on this. The advocacy efforts, begun by the Quakers, and the very broad coalition put together in support were clearly effective and important, as that was reflected several times in the debate.

Ruth Gledhill has links to the debate itself and to reactions on her Times blog.

The government's concerns seemed of the "its all very complicated" variety, which suggests while the Conservative offical position was that it was late in the day to be making a significant change.

So what now happens during the Bill may still be a question to be resolved.

But I was struck by Waheed Alli saying this in summing up:

"I also thank the Bishops, former Bishops and theologians who wrote to the Times to add their support to the amendment. I am clearly disappointed by the response from the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, but I hear his argument. That disappointment is nothing compared with the words which the Leader of the House uttered, but let me say this to those outside and to everyone in this House; the Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, have been supporters of these rights throughout their time in office and on the Back Benches, they have worked incredibly hard to secure us our free vote, and I thank them wholeheartedly for their continued support, whatever small print they were forced to read out. On that basis, I beg to test the opinion of the House".