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The same-sex marriage bill and religious freedom

4 February 2013

9:26 AM

4 February 2013

9:26 AM

Parliament is entering the frenzied final hours leading up to the second reading of the same-sex marriage bill. MPs will vote on the legislation at around 7pm tomorrow, and today’s papers are full of reports that while there is no whipping operation on the free vote, the Conservative leadership is doing its best to encourage MPs who are wavering to support it.

Beyond those who are implacably opposed to the idea of gay marriage are others who worry that though the government has done its best with the ‘quadruple lock’ to protect religious institutions that wish to opt out of same-sex ceremonies, the matter isn’t really in ministers’ hands. Michael Gove’s own constituency chair Geoffrey Vero made this point on Pienaar’s Politics last night:

‘Although Michael says in the Mail today that he has total confidence in the legislation, well that’s not what he told me only a week ago when I met him in Parliament. So, there is little confidence…

‘When we discussed the matter there is no doubt that any legislation we pass in Parliament may well be overturned by the European courts and therefore we don’t have total confidence in that. And also, as regards the church, that although they talk about the quadruple lock, we don’t have total confidence that that is going to stand the test of time.’

Ministers argue the legislation supports religious freedom as it allows groups who want to conduct same-sex weddings to do so. But the conversation Vero claims he had with Gove underlines the fear that many in the party have that it could also undermine the religious freedoms of those groups, including the church, who do not want to conduct the ceremonies. The legislation now means that it will be the government that finds itself subject to a judicial review, rather than an individual vicar being sued. But as Paul Goodman points out on ConservativeHome, for all the assurances Maria Miller gives about the design of the quadruple lock, the answer that some MPs will give when asked if they’ll vote for the bill will be that it is Strasbourg where the crucial decisions on this legislation will be made, not the House of Commons.

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