LONDON, U.K., September 8, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A member of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is calling for a ban on marriages at Christian churches if they refuse to also perform same-sex unions.
“As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality,” wrote Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove and Portslade, in an August 21 letter to Cameron.
While Weatherley’s proposal is currently a “minority view,” it “could quickly become a main stream point of view,” warned Neil Addison, national director of the U.K.‘s Thomas More Legal Centre.
The U.K.‘s 2004 Civil Partnership Act, which legalized same-sex unions, forbade them from being performed in religious venues or from using religious imagery.
But Cameron’s Coalition government has proposed an amendment to the 2010 Equality Act that would allow churches and other religious venues to perform same-sex unions if they choose.
Critics have warned that the measure will lead to even more pressure on religious institutions who refuse to perform the ceremonies, such as the Catholic Church and the Church of England. They note that the government itself admitted in its public consultation document on the amendment that it could lead to lawsuits against churches that refuse to perform the unions.
Weatherley, whose riding has one of the highest rates of civil partnerships in the country, says the government’s proposal will remain “unfair” if religious venues are allowed to refuse to perform the partnerships while still marrying opposite-sex couples.
“Looking back, I am sure that you would agree that it was nothing less than bizarre that same-sex couples were barred from holding their Civil Partnership ceremonies in religious venues,” he tells the Prime Minister.
“I suggest that it makes little difference if unions are called Marriages, Civil Partnerships or some other term (such as simply ‘Unions’),” he writes. “Until we untangle unions and religion in this country, we will struggle to find a fair arrangement.”
Addison said that when the same-sex civil partnerships were first introduced, “those who said that Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, etc. would eventually be forced to perform same sex marriages were ridiculed as being alarmist, but it is now a point of view that is becoming dangerously mainstream.”
“Our political debate seems unable to comprehend the point that defending freedom is as important as promoting equality,” he added.
“What Mike Weatherley MP is now proposing completely ignores the idea of tolerance and balance and would end up forcing religious believers to first of all have a legal civil marriage ceremony followed by a non legal religious ceremony,” he said. “The present system is based on tolerance and tolerance is something Mr Weatherley clearly does not understand.”
Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, whose diocese includes Weatherley’s riding, told the Catholic Herald that the MP is “over-stepping the mark.”
“The Church is a voluntary organisation and if you belong to it then you abide by its rules,” he said. “The law in this country recognises that there is no parity between civil partnerships and marriage. … What he wants is a change in the law because he is not in a position to tell the Catholic Church what to do.”