Peers take on gay church weddings days after they come into force

By Ian Dunt

An attempt to backtrack on rules allowing churches to conduct civil partnerships has been dubbed "spurious" by gay rights campaigners.

Peers, led by Lady O'Cathain, will debate the legal barrier to civil partnerships on religious property on December 15th – ten days after it has been removed.

Speaking to, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said opponents were trying to prevent religious officials from making their own decisions on civil partnerships.

"The House of Lords has already voted clearly in favour of allowing civil partnerships in places of worship," he said.

"The minister has parliamentary and legal authority to bring in these new rules. This cannot be overturned by the House of Lords.

"It's a spurious debate, based on spurious arguments by people who would deny other faiths the right to hold civil partnerships in religious premises if they wish to."

The move to allow civil partnerships in religious buildings was implemented through an amendment to the equality bill and comes into effect on December 5th.

While it would not force any religious organisation to conduct civil partnerships it would allow them to do so if they so wished. Under current regulations, the ceremony is banned in religious buildings whatever the wishes of the owner.

Some ecclesiastical lawyers argue that by allowing civil unions to take place the government will leave religious groups at the mercy of local authorities, who have a legal obligation to ensure equality in the provision of goods and services.

Gay rights experts point out that there have been no successful challenges against the religious exemptions to Britain's equality laws. For instance, there are qualified exemptions for religious organisations written into the law that prohibits homophobic discrimination in the workplace under the Equality Act, all of which remain in place.

Progressive Jewish organisations and Quakers are expected to be the first groups to conduct civil ceremonies in religious buildings. The Church of England and Catholic Church are resolutely opposed.

The change only concerns the building in which the event takes place, rather than the ceremony itself.