Late last night Stonewall’s latest amendment to the Equality Bill – to permit civil partnerships to be held in religious premises – was passed in the House of Lords by a majority of 74. The amendment, tabled by Lord Alli, was supported by peers across parties, including former Conservative Party Chairman Lord Fowler and Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford.
‘This further step towards equality is a real victory for religious reason over those Church of England and Roman Catholic bishops who’ve tried to bully other denominations in recent weeks,’ said Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill. Quakers and Liberal Jews were among those denominations which supported the amendment.
During the debate Lord Alli, the only openly-gay peer, said: ‘Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants. It has to apply equally to the Quakers as it does to the Church of England and to the Liberal Jews as it does to the Catholic Church.’ The Government opposed the amendment although it permitted its backbenchers a free vote after the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had offered the same. The proposal was passed by 95 votes to 21 shortly before 11pm, after a lengthy debate.
Ben Summerskill said: ‘We’ve argued throughout that this is an important matter of religious freedom. Ministers have known for some months that we intended to table this measure and we regret that the Government didn’t stand up to the bullying it faced from some churches on this issue. We’ll now work closely with ministers to ensure that we secure implementation of this further step towards equality. This vote is hugely important to those gay people of faith (and, as Lady Neuberger pointed out, to their Jewish mothers too!) who wish to celebrate their civil partnerships in their own place of worship.’