British lawmakers voted in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex “marriage” on Tuesday. Supporters celebrate the bill as a step towards “equality,” but church leaders and conservatives warn, if implemented, the measure will bring serious social and cultural ramifications.
Spearheaded by Prime Minister David Cameron, the bill still has to endure parliamentary debates and earn approval of the House of Lords before becoming law. If approved, it would allow same-sex couples to get “married” in both civil and religious ceremonies, provided the religious institution consents, starting in 2015.
Opponents have expressed concern about how the measure will threaten religious freedom. In response, Culture Secretary Maria Miller stressed all religious organizations can decide for themselves whether they want to "opt in.” But the bill wouldn’t protect business-owning church members from having to recognize gay marriage in any context outside the church. For business owners, discrimination lawsuits like the one against bed and breakfast owner Susanne Wilkinson also could increase.
In December, British lawyer Aidan O’Neil warned in a legal opinion against a variety of situations in which supporters of traditional marriage would be forced to recognize gay unions as marriage. Primary school teachers who refuse to teach LGBT-friendly curricula could be fired, Christian parents who want to adopt could be forbidden, and marriage registrars who refuse to fill out marriage licenses could be sued.
The law’s religious provision specifically exempts the Church of England from performing same-sex “marriages,” since they are banned by Canon law. That “quadruple lock” provision is supposed to protect the Church from legal trouble, but Church of England officials expressed concern it might not be enough.
“It is impossible to predict whether those provisions will prove robust enough to resist challenge in the courts, particularly at Strasbourg,” they wrote in an eight-page briefing about the bill. “The possibility of a successful claim against the United Kingdom under the Human Rights Convention, on the basis that the ‘locks’ contained in the legislation discriminate unjustifiably against same sex couples, cannot be ruled out.”
The bill revealed a deep division between parties in the House. “Strong views exist on both sides," admitted Cameron. Half of his party rejected the proposal or refused to vote: 127 voted in favor, 136 opposed the bill, and 35 abstained. But strong support from the left-leaning Labour Party and Liberal Democrats secured the bill’s approval, based on arguments that the law should recognize same sex “marriages” as equal to traditional ones.
In their briefing, Church of England officials pointed out the logical fallacy of that demand.
“Redefining marriage amounts to a legislative assertion that both heterosexual and homosexual relationships are socially identical,” they wrote. “Not every aspect of gender equality, or equality for disabled people, is embraced by denying difference. Equality does not necessarily mean uniformity.”