Monday, 20 May 2013

UK same-sex marriage Bill and the ECtHR

The UK Parliament is once again debating the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill that would extend marriage to same-sex partners in England and Wales. The Bill is at Report Stage in the House of Commons and several MPs, both Conservative and Liberal Democrat, have introduced amendments characterised by some as wrecking amendments. The Bill will conclude its business in the Commons at Third Reading tomorrow.

One feature of the debate so far at Report stage is reference to the European Court of Human Rights as an institution to be feared because of its supposed ultra pro-gay agenda. For example, here is what Sir Gerald Howarth MP said about the impact of same-sex marriage legislation on school teachers who wish to exercise a conscientious objection to homosexuality and marriage:

'There are people out there who will be intimidated by this legislation [...] We have ceded the power of the House of Commons not to the courts of this land, but to the European Court of Human Rights. That Court will be the ultimate determinant of what is to prevail, the right of the teacher expressing a profoundly religious view [...] Our constituents do feel intimidated. They fear that they will be accused of a hate crime. That, in my view, is a new and wholly pernicious development of the law.'

The Court once again features in the consciousness of some Britons as an institution trampling on the rights of people of faith and forcing homosexuality on an otherwise resistant nation. In this respect, it was welcome to see the 'reality check' introduced into the debate by Stephen Doughty MP, quoting Lord Pannick:

'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.'


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