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Peers abandon challenge after minister's reassurances over CPs in churches
An amendment tabled by peers anxious at churches being forced to allow civil partnership ceremonies -- see previous post -- was yesterday dropped after a Home Office minister gave explicit reassurances that there was no legal basis for a challenge.
Conservative peers and evangelical campaigners had claimed that lobby groups could challenge churches who refused to allow such partnerships on their premises. The Catholic and Anglican Churches, who have made clear they do not consent to such ceremonies on their premises, however made clear that they believed there were sufficient legal safeguards. In a briefing Note sent to peers last week, the bishops' conference of England and Wales however added that they would welcome an explicit reassurance in that respect.
Yesterday they received that reassurance. Lord Henley, Home Office minister of state, told peers: "There is no obligation. It would be a very, very vexatious litigant who would bring an action and I don't think they would stand much chance in the courts."
After he promised that the government would keep the legislation under review, Baroness O'Cathain withdrew her amendment.
On 19 December, Archbishop Peter Smith welcomed the assurances. He said:
“I was very glad to read the clear assurance given by Lord Henley for the government in the debate in the House of Lords on 15th December on civil partnerships in religious premises. We had sought such an assurance to avoid any legal challenge to the regulations and to make clear beyond any doubt that the regulations and the Equality Act safeguard the legitimate freedom of churches not to allow such ceremonies on their own premises. At the end of the debate the Minister gave a very clear assurance to this effect, and said: “It is proper to say that it is Parliament’s intention that that is the position.”