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HSLD publishes its response to the "Equal Civil Marriage" consultation

June 14, 2012 5:15 PM

HSLD has today submitted its response to the government's Equal Civil Marriage consultation.

In our response, we

* support allowing same-sex couples to have civil marriages;

* argue that willing religious groups should have the right to conduct religious weddings of same-sex couples;

* support opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples;

* support allowing existing same-sex partners to convert their civil partnerships to marriage;

* call for humanist weddings to be allowed in England, as they already are in Scotland.

We're proud that the Liberal Democrats adopted an Equal Marriage policy in 2010, by an almost unanimous vote of elected members from local parties throughout the country, and we're proud that the Lynne Featherstone and the party leadership has stood firmly by that policy.

We're delighted that opinion polls appear to show that a clear majority of the British public, including a majority of religious believers, support equal marriage.

This is about simple fairness and equality; it's about same-sex couples being treated by the state, and given the same rights, as other couples.

It can be argued that same-sex civil partnership is equal in status to marriage - but, quite apart from the technical differences, the reality is that one is only available to same-sex couples and the other only to opposite-sex couples. In today's world, the existence of "separate but equal" rights for people of different races, sexes, religions or sexual orientations should not be acceptable.

That is even before taking into consideration the difficulties that arise for couples, precisely because of the existence of two separate institutions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, including:

* the forced exposure of one's sexual orientation on any official form where "marital status" must be declared;

* the forced voiding of existing marriages, with huge financial and personal implications, when one partner has a change of sex, even when the couple wishes to remain together.

However, this is also about freedom of religion, which is a core principle for both humanists and secularists, and here the proposals let down same-sex couples and people of faith badly.

The government has quite rightly insisted that no religious group will be forced to conduct weddings for gay couples; we recognise and uphold the right of religious communities to decide, on the grounds of their religious beliefs, not to conduct same-sex weddings.

However, we deeply regret that the proposals do not uphold the equivalent right of other religious communities who do wish to solemnise such weddings as religious ceremonies.

It is deeply hurtful for many couples of faith that the state bars not just them but their priests and their congregation from solemnising their wedding as a key religious event in their lives.

We believe that a continuing ban on same-sex religious weddings discriminates not just against same-sex couples of faith but also directly against those religious communities who are barred from solemnising those weddings.

And of course a continuing ban on humanist weddings discriminates directly against all humanists.

You can download our response by clicking on "Equal Civil Marriage - HSLD submission"