Peers drop equality bill challenge

 

Peers today dropped a challenge to the lifting of a ban on gays and lesbians holding civil partnership ceremonies in churches.

Conservative Baroness O'Cathain had urged that regulations allowing the registration of civil partnerships in religious buildings should be annulled due to legal doubts over their effect.

But she withdrew the challenge after assurances from Home Office minister Lord Henley that the provisions were "entirely permissive" and did not force faith groups to hold ceremonies if they did not want to do so.

Peers voted last year to lift the ban on gays and lesbians holding civil partnership ceremonies in churches.

The amendment to the Equality Bill was moved then by openly gay Labour peer Lord Alli, who today hit out at the "misinformation peddled" by those now seeking to block the move.

In an impassioned debate, Lady O'Cathain warned the regulations allowing the change were "fatally flawed".

Although they do not compel religious organisations to host the registration of civil partnerships, she claimed equality laws could leave them open to legal challenge.

Lady O'Cathain said she did not doubt the Government's intention to create an "entirely voluntary system" but lawyers advised equality laws could leave churches which choose not to host gay and lesbian ceremonies open to "legal pressure".

She told a packed House of Lords: "In no way am I trying to block these regulations as a means of opposing civil partnerships."

Despite receiving many "obnoxious letters" impugning her motives, she insisted: "I have no hidden agenda. My sole reason is to stop churches having their religious freedoms taken away by local authority or litigious activists."

PA

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