Monday, June 24, 2013

The battle's not over

When the same-sex marriage bill arrived in the House of Lords, Lord Dear, concerned at the undemocratic way it had been rushed through the Commons with no electoral mandate and no proper parliamentary scrutiny, proposed that the bill be dropped. His amendment was defeated by 390 votes to 148.

From the result, you might suppose that the Lords were in favour of introducing same-sex marriage. Not necessarily so. Some are said to have feared that if the Lords rejected the bill out of hand, the Government might use the Parliamentary Act to force it into law as it stood.

Says the Coalition for Marriage, the organisation set up to fight for traditional marriage:
The Coalition Government has agreed to change the criminal law to put it beyond doubt that disagreeing with same-sex marriage is not a hate crime. That should send a helpful message to those who throw around the "bigot" label far too freely.

However, Government ministers are being advised by officials in the equalities office to block any other protections in the civil law. We think reasonable changes need to be made to employment law and equality law to protect people like you – people who believe in traditional marriage – but the Government is not listening.

The House of Lords is currently examining the bill line by line. The legislation is getting the kind of prolonged scrutiny that the Government did not permit in the Commons. In the Commons the Government guillotined debate and stacked the committee with the bill’s supporters, but they can’t do that in the Lords. Now that the bill is under the spotlight in the Lords, gaps are beginning to show.

Astonishingly, the Government says fidelity is not a necessary part of any marriage. The exact quote from the Government minister is: “In terms of the law, marriage does not require the fidelity of couples. It is open to each couple to decide for themselves on the importance of fidelity within their own relationship.”

In other words, under the bill, the Government doesn’t think faithfulness is important in marriage. This is because it wants to avoid the legal problems which would otherwise be created if it introduced laws about adultery or consummation for same-sex marriage. That shatters the argument that this bill will strengthen marriage. No, it will wreck marriage.

Up until now, officials in the equalities office have been telling Government ministers that the bill won’t harm the liberty of people who disagree with it. But after pressure in the House of Lords, Government ministers have admitted they want commercial companies to be able to sack staff who refuse to be involved with same-sex marriages.

The Government thinks commercial chauffeurs who object to a same-sex marriage should be dismissed. By the same logic, florists, photographers and cake makers would also be in the firing line. We want a reasonable accommodation for such workers, a bit of flexibility which takes account of people’s sincere beliefs. But so far the Government has stubbornly refused.

We are also calling for protections for public sector workers like teachers and chaplains; and we want to make sure that local councils can’t penalise organisations who disagree with same-sex marriage. So far, the Government won’t give way.

But the Lords are putting the Government on the spot, making life very uncomfortable for them.
Each amendment suggested by the Lords will have to go back to the Commons for consideration. Prime Minister David Cameron is said to want the parliamentary process completed by July 18.

The battle about same-sex marriage is not over. Not by any means.

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