UK govt backs down on forcing chaplains to conduct gay 'marriages'
LONDON, May 16, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The UK’s Conservative-led coalition government is under fire from both sides over its “gay marriage bill.” Possible cracks are appearing in the government’s determination to push forward with the bill, which has already passed in the House of Commons, in a change of heart over military chaplains.
Earlier this week, Equalities Minister Maria Miller issued a statement that hospital and military chaplains would not be forced to conduct same-sex “marriage” ceremonies as part of their capacity as government employees.
“Hospital chaplains will be protected in exactly the same way as any other clergy and could not be forced to conduct marriages of same sex,” Miller added. “They wouldn’t be able to conduct marriages of same-sex couples unless the governing authority of their religious organization of which they are a part had opted in.”
Opponents have long argued that the government’s promises that Anglican clergy would not face legal consequences for any conscientious objections are meaningless. They have pointed out that there are no built-in protections for lay people or non-Anglican ministers of religion.
Even without having created gay “marriage” in law, lay marriage commissioners have experienced legal challenges for objecting to conducting civil partnership ceremonies.
The National Secular Society issued a statement wondering if Cameron’s resolve is “wobbling” over the recent surge of the United Kingdom Independence Party in recent local elections.
“It seemed until quite recently that the government was resolved to see the matter through. Then came the local elections and the triumph of UKIP,” the NSS said.
At the same time, former Defense Minister Sir Gerald Howarth joined with other senior Conservative Party voices warning of the potential legal and political consequences of the bill. Howarth said the bill’s provisions for forcing military and other chaplains to conduct homosexual “marriages” was “utterly contemptible.” “Nothing better illustrates how the State is now embarked on a course to undermine the Christian view of marriage,” he said.
Cameron is facing a meltdown in his own party, with voters and MPs alike streaming into up-and-coming rival, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), with many citing the bill as a vote-killer.
In the House of Commons in February, 134 Tories voted against the same-sex “marriage” plans, with 35 abstaining and only 126 backing it.
Now a group of Tory MPs have called for a referendum in the 2015 general election.
David Burrowes, Tory MP for Enfield Southgate, said, “Despite 13 sittings of the Bill committee and a majority of Conservatives voting against the Bill, the government has not amended one word of it. It has steamrollered ahead and ignored all opposition on its path.”
Speaking to BBC 2’s “Daily Politics” program, Burrowes said the bill “isn’t simply just a tidying up of marriage law; it is also a significant social change that needs to be dealt with carefully [with] proper scrutiny, and also if it needs to happen, it needs to happen building a consensus.”
Burrowes defended the choice of a referendum, saying it is not merely a matter of a law following a social change but that the bill “has constitutional implications as well. There’s issues of the Church and State, who have had a key interest in marriage for hundreds of years.”
Responding to a lesbian constituent in a letter, Burrowes said he supports “civil partnerships, so much so that I do not see the need to change marriage to encompass same-sex couples when it has always existed as a distinctive relationship between a man and a woman.”
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Meanwhile, UKIP has said the party may back redefining marriage in exchange for the UK pulling out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.
Critics of the bill have said that any “quadruple lock” legal safeguards the government may write into the bill would ultimately be meaningless as long as Britain remains under the remand of the ECHR that has the power under current treaties to overturn any British law or court ruling.
Speaking to Gay Star News, a senior UKIP spokesman said: ‘If we find ourselves outside of the legislation of the European Court of Human Rights, we may have a different opinion [on same-sex marriage].”