Saturday, 22 June 2013

Same-sex marriage, Lord Stoddart and the ECHR

As the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 progresses through the UK House of Lords, Peers continue to table a vast number of amendments on a wide range of issues. 

For Lord Stoddart of Swindon, the Bill has allowed him to table an amendment that combines two of his greatest dislikes: legal equality for gay men and lesbians, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Lord Stoddart's tabled amendment (48A) proposes to insert the following new clause into the Bill:

               “The European Convention on Human Rights
In the event that the provisions of this Act are found by the European Court of Human Rights to be incompatible with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Secretary of State shall act to withdraw the United Kingdom’s signature to the Convention.”
If Lord Stoddart's amendment was successful it would mean that any judgment from the Court in respect of any aspect of the Act would trigger a complete withdrawal of the UK from the Convention. 

This may seem an incredible amendment to table - after all, it proposes to write a threatening letter to the Court into an Act of Parliament ('If you find against us, we will take our ball back and go home and never play with you again') - but it is rather unsurprising if one has followed Lord Stoddart over the years. 

Lord Stoddart has always opposed equal rights for lesbians and gay men. He opposed the introduction of equality legislation, the right of same-sex couples to adopt, and the repeal of what is now called 'homosexual propaganda' legislation. He was instrumental in attempts to stop the equalisation of the minimum ages for heterosexual and homosexual sex in the UK and, like many of his colleagues, he complained about the result of his efforts to thwart the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 1999:

      Lord Stoddart: I know that I shall be labelled as a bigot and reactionary.
      Noble Lords: Yes!

But Lord Stoddart's dislike of lesbian and gay legal equality is outshone by his persistent arguments against the legitimacy of the Court. Across a wide range of issues, he has often criticised the Court as part of his broader dislike of any integration between the UK and other European states. 

Lord Stoddart's amendment is highly unlikely to succeed, but it is a reminder of the continuing hostility to the Convention and the Court that exists in the UK Parliament. 

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