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Marriage: two steps forward, one step back

May 22, 2013 11:02 AM

Yesterday saw a major advance for same-sex couples in the UK - but also a setback for humanist couples.

The Commons voted once again, by an overwhelming majority of 366 to 161, in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Only 4 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against: Gordon Birtwhistle, John Pugh, Sir Alan Beith and Sarah Teather. One pleasant surprise came from Greg Mulholland, who voted for the Bill. Non-voters included Tim Farron and Simon Hughes.

However, earlier in the afternoon the amendment which would have allowed humanist marriage ceremonies to be legally recognised was ambushed by last-minute legal objections from the Tory Attorney General, Dominic Grieve MP. The Church of England, represented by Church Commissioner Tony Baldry MP, also objected vigorously to the amendment. You can find more details at http://humanism.org.uk/2013/05/21/legal-recognition-of-humanist-marriages-blocked-in-commons/

This humanist marriage amendment was withdrawn, but it's not dead. The Bill now goes to the House of Lords, where another amendment can be submitted.

In any case, we've already made major progress: humanist marriage has been debated on the floor of the House of Commons; the amendment had been tabled by LibDem MPs and was proposed by Labour frontbencher Kate Green; many MPs spoke in favour and not a single MP was willing to publicly argue against the principle of legalising humanist marriage. Even the Church Commissioner only claimed that the amendment would have damaging technical consequences, although the feebleness of his arguments made it pretty clear that the Church of England will look for any reason to dig its heels in on this one.

It's now clear that the major opposition to legalising humanist marriage ceremonies comes from the Conservative Party and the Church of England. Neither will be able to block reform for long.