Only ‘legal miracle’ would force faith groups to marry same-sex couples

By Savi Hensman
February 13, 2013

“For the European Court of Human Rights to compel a religious body or its adherents to conduct a religious marriage of a same sex couple would require a legal miracle much greater than the parting of the Red Sea for the Children of Israel to cross from Egypt,” stated Lord Pannick QC.

His statement to the parliamentary committee examining the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill supports the view of government lawyers, who made it clear that religious organisations will be free to marry only opposite-sex couples if they so choose.

The Bill has been carefully worded to give faith groups which register marriages the right not to opt into celebrating weddings for same-sex couples unless they wish to do so. In various countries in Europe and beyond, equal marriage has not led to mass persecution of people of faith who object to this. Yet scaremongering continues.

Leading human rights barrister David Pannick, who has argued many cases in the European Court of Human Rights, explained in a memorandum that “The legal position is clear beyond doubt.”

He continued, “The Bill states, in unambiguous terms, that no religious organisation or representative is required to marry a same sex couple; it contains an opt-in mechanism by which a marriage of a same sex couple cannot be carried out on religious premises or with a religious ceremony without the express consent of the governing body of that religion; and it amends the Equality Act 2010 to exclude discrimination claims against religious organisations or their employees who decline to conduct, or be involved in, a religious marriage of a same sex couple.”

Indeed “It is in the realms of legal fantasy to suggest that the Court would impose an obligation on a religious body to conduct such a ceremony, especially when civil marriage will be available in this country for a same sex couple and when Article 9 of the Convention protects religious beliefs and practices.”

At present in England and Wales, faith communities who conduct marriages cannot validly do so for same-sex couples, even if they believe that such exclusion is morally wrong and harmful. Changing the law would allow them to act in accordance with their consciences and increase religious freedom overall.


(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular commentator on religion, politics, theology and church affairs. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equality and care sector.

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