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The Strasbourg judgments and gay marriage

25 January 2013


From Mr David Lamming
Sir, - On The World at One (Radio 4, 15 January), the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, commented on the European Court of Human Rights' judgment rejecting the cases of Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele, who had complained of discrimination by their employers on account on their unwillingness to carry out duties that conflicted with their religious views on homosexuality. Mr Pickles said: "If you offer a service to the public, you have a right to expect that the service will be available to all people."

How does this square with the assurance given to Parliament by the Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, on 11 December last year, that the "quadruple lock of measures" that she announced would provide "iron-clad protection in law" to Churches that, on account of their religious beliefs, did not want to conduct same-sex marriages, and that, with appropriate legislative drafting, "the chances of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible"?

Challenges will undoubtedly be made on the basis that a Church, such as the Church of England, that conducts marriage ceremonies must make those ceremonies available to all, regardless of the gender of the parties. Will Mr Pickles be supporting such challenges, regardless of whatever "quadruple lock" may be in the legislation?

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Sudbury
Suffolk CO10 5HU

From Carol Palfrey
Sir, - Canon Michael Ainsworth (Letters, 18 January) suggests a solution that "balances human rights with the rights of faith communities to retain same-sex partnerships alongside heterosexual marriage, with the proviso that faith communities are as positive as they can be in helping all couples to celebrate their relationships".

Setting aside the strong desire of many same-sex couples to be "married", this may seem, at first sight, to be a reasonable way to proceed. The recent change in the law to allow those religious traditions that wish to do so to perform legally recognised same-sex partnership ceremonies in their places of worship may seem a step towards achieving this solution. I would like, however, to draw attention to a serious inequality.

Under the Marriage Act 1753, the only legally recognised marriages in Britain (with the exception of Jews and Quakers) were those performed in a parish church by a clergyman of the Church of England. The Marriage Act of 1836 enabled ministers of other Christian Churches to register marriages performed in their churches. A one-off fee was paid for licensing. Ever since this legislation was enacted, our Unitarian chapel has held marriage ceremonies conducted by ministers or legally recognised "Appointed Persons" from our own congregation.

The new law covering same-sex partnership ceremonies in religious buildings requires different arrangements, which we believe to be discriminatory. Although the chapel is already licensed for marriages, a separate licence is required for same-sex partnerships. If, as Canon Ainsworth's solution implies, same-sex partnerships and marriage give the same rights to the couples involved, why is a separate licence required, and, if it is, why is the cost so high (in our case, £1500 for five years)?

We understand that the main justification is the need for certain checks to be carried out to ensure that the building is suitable and meets legislative requirements. If the building is deemed safe and appropriate for marrying heterosexual couples, why is it not equally safe and appropriate for conducting same-sex partnership ceremonies?

In addition, a same-sex partnership ceremony cannot be conducted by a minister or "Authorised Person" from the congregation, but requires the presence of a registrar, at a cost to the couple of £400. Thus, a same-sex couple would have to pay far more for their ceremony than a heterosexual couple.

Unless licensing arrangements can be changed, I fear that Canon Ainsworth's proposal does not resolve the problem of discrimination. The only way forward seems to be the introduction of marriage for all.

Solar Via, Happisburgh
Norwich NR12 0QU

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