LONDON, January 30, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Promises of “safeguards” for churches in the UK’s proposed gay “marriage” law are empty and unenforceable, given the UK’s Equalities law and connections to the European Union, according to a top legal expert.
According to Aidan O’Neill QC, wording in the bill, scheduled to go to the vote on February 5th, that he government claims makes it illegal for the Church of England and Church in Wales (Anglican) to conduct same-sex “weddings” is “eminently challenge-able”. O’Neill has told the government that the wording is in fact illegal, and will be overturned straight out of the gate.
The comments come in response to a blog post by Maria Milller, the Culture Minister who introduced the bill on Friday, in which she said, “I have always been crystal clear that I simply will not introduce any new law that does not provide protection for all religious organisations and individual ministers of religion.
“Our Bill will both protect and promote religious freedom in this country, so that religious organisations can continue to act according to their own doctrines and beliefs.”
The legislation contains wording that forbids the Anglican churches, as the officially established church, from conducting same-sex “weddings”. But this does not extend to the Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations or religious groups like Jews or Muslims.
Miller wrote, “Tolerance is a two-way street,” adding that the government has taken its cue from the “Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians – who said they wanted the opportunity to marry same-sex couples, and so we decided to build that into our plans.”
“After all, we are very clear that this decision is entirely up to individual religious organisations and their ministers, but in principle who are we to stop those religious bodies from conducting same-sex marriages if they want to? Allowing them to do so promotes religious freedom.”
O’Neill’s concerns were echoed today by Education Secretary Michael Gove who said that government could be “powerless” to stop teachers being sacked for refusing to teach “gay marriage.” The Daily Telegraph reports that “a senior source” in the department of education said the UK is not “in control” of its own legal situation and that the ultimate decision might “inevitably” be made by the European Court of Human Rights.
The source said, “We have had legal advice; the problem is that there is this inherent uncertainty about such matters.”
“These are all under the control of nine guys in Strasbourg, it is just fundamentally uncertain because Britain isn’t in control of this.”
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Gove is not alone among ministers in expressing doubts. It is now estimated that at least 100 MPs will vote against the bill, although this is far too few to defeat it.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has also raised concerns about the ‘robustness’ of protections. Hammond said that “gay marriage” is not a priority for voters, adding, “I believe the introduction of civil partnerships has removed the elements of practical discrimination that existed against those in same-sex relationships.”
“I do not believe there is a compelling reason to prioritise legislation to go further at the present time and I have concerns about the robustness of the protections for religious organisations that are being put in place.”
While the government continues to focus almost exclusively on the potential conflicts for clergy, Aidan O’Neill has already given testimony to the government’s consultation that creating “gay marriage” in law would automatically throw a wide array of lay religious believers and other conscientious objectors into conflict with their employers and leave them open to litigation with little or no legal recourse. He particularly highlighted teachers as those who could be sacked for refusing to endorse same-sex “marriage,” and also argued that parents would have no right to withdraw their children from classes that endorse gay “marriage.”
Meantime, no one in the Christian community seems to be willing to trust the assurances that they will be protected from being forced to violate their consciences. Earlier this month, 1067 Catholic priests, including 13 bishops and abbots, signed a letter warning of a return of formal persecution of believing Catholics should the change go through. In an interview, the new archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, said he could see himself ending up in prison for his refusal to bow to the zeitgeist’s interpretation of marriage.
At a meeting with concerned Catholic lay groups this week, Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark said he remains unconvinced that the government’s promises of a “quadruple lock” in the bill will stand up in court. He warned that Catholic schools might face a similar fate as the Catholic adoption agencies that were either closed or forced to secularise when the government enacted the Equality legislation requiring them to consider same-sex “couples” as adoptive parents.
John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children has said that the emptiness of government promises has already been demonstrated dozens of times. Smeaton wrote today that since the passage of the Abortion Act 1967, successive governments have repeatedly promised and failed to protect conscientious objectors to the various gains of the Sexual Revolution, from abortion to explicit “sex education” in schools to enforcing acceptance of homosexuality.
The government’s promises are ringing even more hollow in the face of a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in a set of four cases brought by Christians complaining of religious discrimination in the workplace. A week before the government brought its marriage bill forward, the ECHR ruled against three of the plaintiffs, ruling in two cases that Christians with conscientious objections were not allowed to refuse to participate in same-sex civil partnerships or counsel same-sex couples.
The ECHR found that the sacking of relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane and of marriage registrar Lillian Ladele were “not disproportionate” and that the sanctions were in keeping with employers’ legitimate “equality and diversity policies”. Under the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, the European courts have the power to overturn the laws of member states if they are found to conflict with European law.
In dozens of cases large and small, Christians have been the targets of homosexualist activists using the current Equalities law to punish any public opposition to the political agenda. From these cases alone experts have said that it is clear that the new law will affect ordinary working people in a wide range of professions outside the clergy, including marriage registrars and government officials of any kind, nurses, building managers, teachers, amateur street preachers, foster parents, counsellors, hoteliers and bed and breakfast owners.