Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Supplementary evidence submitted by O. B. Hepworth (MB 59)

Public Bill Committee on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013

Summary

I am concerned at the proposed amendments (ref no’s. 10 & 11 on the List of Amendments) which re-define same sex marriages as ‘civil marriages’ and would allow an opt out for civil registrars from conducting marriages for same sex couples; the first amendment negates the purpose of the Bill, to provide for equality in legal terms, and the second would result in difficulty in accessing this service and lead on to an erosion of equal treatment in the provision of goods and services for LGBT people and other minorities.

1. I have watched the public evidence sessions of the Bill Committee and I have become concerned at the line of questioning by two or three MP’s, who are declared opponents of the whole Bill in principle and the ‘evidence’ being given by witnesses who are also opponents of the whole Bill.

2. Now David Burrowes and Tim Loughton have proposed two amendments

3. The purpose of the first [Ref 10 on published List of Amendments] is obscure but suggests that same sex couples would get something different, to be called "civil marriage", as opposed to "Marriage". All of the church representatives who have given evidence appeared to be satisfied with the protections given to them by the "quadruple lock". None of the religious organisations wanted the State to interfere with their right to deal with the civil and the religious aspects of registering marriages in one go. The Committee heard from several witnesses from religious organisations who wish to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

4. The second proposed amendment seeks to give public registrars an absolute ‘opt-out’ on grounds of their personal conscience, whether based on religious belief or not, from conducting Marriages for same sex couples [Ref 11 on published List of Amendments]

5. The witness Mark Jones, a Solicitor, stated in his evidence (14th February) :

"….. I was told this morning by a former registrar who decided to leave the service when she felt compromised. She was in touch with her former colleagues-there are a dozen or so within that particular service-and to all of them, including some who hold a religious belief and some who have no religious belief, she was explaining, "At the beginning of the service, we explain what marriage is. It is one man, one woman, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others, and there is a notice to that effect in every registry office in England and Wales." The explanation that I was given is that there is extreme confusion-and actually, distress-for every single individual within that organisation about the definition. It is what they have based their understanding on …. presumably it is consistent with their belief, not a conflict of conscience-and now they will have to be saying something different"

6. In the Registry described by Mr Jones, were the Bill to be passed with the Burrowes/Loughton amendment, it seems probable that the entire staff would have a conscientious objection and therefore there would be no Marriages for same sex couples in that district.

7. I am very concerned that such an amendment would effectively be rolling back Equality legislation and allowing for public discrimination against LGBT people

8. Having once established the principle that public servants had an individual right of conscientious objection to serving LGBT people on this one issue there would be an argument to extend it to all other issues and areas of the public service. Furthermore, once such a right had become established for public sector employees, it would be difficult to say that private sector employees and businesses should not also have a similar right.

9. We could see an effective end to equality in entitlement to goods and services for LGBT individuals and couples.

10. Providing for the ‘reasonable accommodation’ of employees and others who have a conscientious objection to dealing with or serving gay and lesbian people (or any other minority group) depends upon the number of people who hold such objection being tiny. Plainly it cannot be guaranteed that the number of such people will be very small in every office, Council or locality.

February 2013

Prepared 27th February 2013