London, 28 February 2013
On 5 February, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 (the Bill) received its Second Reading in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. The Bill opens up access to the institution of marriage to same sex couples through civil ceremonies and allows religious organisations to “opt in” to conducting same sex marriage. In a submission to the Parliamentary Committee (the Committee) considering the Bill, The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) has welcomed the Bill, but called on the Committee to make further improvements.
ERT’s submission to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Public Bill Committee of 25 February 2013 welcomed the Bill, arguing that it would, if adopted, provide the United Kingdom with some of the strongest and most progressive legislation protecting the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Notwithstanding that support however, ERT expressed its serious concerns that the Bill contains a number of provisions which would differentiate between different sex and same sex couples and which would amount to unjustifiable discrimination.
ERT’s analysis stresses that when religious organisations conduct marriages which are recognised and regulated by the state they perform a public function and that international human rights law and the Equality Act 2010 require such functions to be carried out in a non-discriminatory manner. The submission recognises that respect for freedom of religion requires that religious organisations should be free to conduct religious ceremonies in accordance with their beliefs and tenets. However, it notes also that when conducting state-recognised marriage, these institutions are carrying out a public function and therefore argues that those organisations should not be permitted to discriminate against couples based on their sexual orientation, but must carry out that function in a non-discriminatory manner.
In addition, ERT highlighted that the Bill:
- leaves same sex couples in Northern Ireland unable to marry, solely based on their place of residence;
- reserves concepts such as adultery and consummation as solely heterosexual, symbolising a segregation of different sex and same sex couples; and
- makes no amendments to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which discriminates against different sex couples in denying them access to civil partnerships.
ERT urged the Committee to remove these remaining areas of discrimination between different sex and same sex couples, thereby ensuring full equality, regardless of sexual orientation.
To read ERT’s Submission to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee, click here
To read the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 (the Bill), click here