He was responding to the Church of England’s submission to the government’s consultation on same-sex marriage. The consultation period ends this Thursday, 14 June. The church opposes the legalisation of gay civil marriages.
Mr Tatchell is the coordinator of the Equal Love campaign, which is lobbying for “the legalisation of both same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.”
“The government’s proposals concern only civil marriages in register offices. They will have no impact on faith organisations or places of worship. Senior churchmen are protesting against a law change that will not affect them. They have no right to demand that gay couples should be banned from civil marriage ceremonies,” he added.
“It is untrue to suggest that allowing same-sex civil marriages would lead to legal challenges that will force churches to marry gay couples. Civil divorces are legal, yet there has never been a successful legal challenge to religious organisations that ban divorce. The courts recognise a distinction between civil and religious institutions.
“While no faith organisation should be forced to marry gay couples, any individual minister of religion who is licensed to conduct marriages should be free to perform a same-sex marriage in their place of worship, if they wish to do so. Church leaders should not be allowed to dictate that willing clergy must be banned by law from marrying lesbian and gay couples. It should be a matter for individual clergy and their conscience.
“Since the government has already allowed same-sex civil partnerships to be held in places of worship, it is inconsistent to not allow religious premises to be used voluntarily for same-sex marriages.
“The UK’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are unjust discrimination. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law.
“Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to gay and heterosexual couples, with no discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage. A Populus poll in March 2012 found that 65% of the public agreed with the statement: ‘Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships.’ Only 27% disagreed. This represents a steady increase in public support for marriage equality and a steep decline in public opposition.
See the Populus poll here: www.populus.co.uk/uploads/OmGay_Rights.pdf
“Legalising same -sex marriage is the recognition that LGBT people are of equal worth, equally part of humanity and have a right to the equal validation of their love.
“The same principle of equality applies in the case of civil partnerships. Heterosexual couples should be able to have a civil partnership if they wish.
“In February 2011, four gay couples and four heterosexual couples, sponsored by the Equal Love campaign, filed a historic joint appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). See here:
“Our appeal argues that Britain’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships amount to illegal discrimination, contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The bans violate Articles 8, 12 and 14 – respectively the right to privacy and family life, the right to marry and the right to non-discrimination.
“Our Equal Love case is based on different legal arguments from the French and Austrian same-sex marriage appeals, which were rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. We are quietly confident of victory,” said Mr Tatchell.