The ‘Alli amendment’ to the Equality Bill permitted the celebration of civil partnerships in religious buildings for the first time in the UK. It was passed in March 2010 by a majority of 74 votes. However, a ‘wrecking motion’ – introduced by Conservative peer Baroness O’Cathain – sought to have the amendment overruled, and to effectively ban civil partnerships in religious premises.
Discussion on the motion took place today in the House of Lords and it was successfully defeated. It seems that the significant demonstrations of support across the House were enough to silence the removal of gay rights – Baroness O’Cathain withdrew her motion just moments before a vote was due to be called.
The ‘Alli amendment’, section 202 of the new Equality Act, is entirely permissive – as some of the members of parliament could have done well to learn before engaging in the discussions today. Contrary to claims made by opponents of equality during today’s debate, it will only apply to denominations such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and Liberal Judaism which have chosen to host civil partnership ceremonies.
Leading gay rights charity, Stonewall, have been highly active in securing and defending the ‘Alli amendment’. Following today’s success, Ben Summerskill, Stonewall Chief Executive, said:
‘Christmas has come early for equality. We’re delighted that a campaign of misinformation surrounding this issue has today been seen off by the House of Lords. Although only a small number of devout lesbian and gay people will benefit, at Stonewall we will always stand up for minority groups – whether of faith or anything else – within our community. This was an important issue of religious freedom.
‘Today’s debate reminds us that there are still vocal opponents of equality for the 3.7 million people in this country who happen to be gay. We trust that Baroness O’Cathain and her supporters will now have a little more free time during which to celebrate the second most important festival in the Christian calendar.’
The first ceremonies are expected to take place early in the new year.