Gay marriage plans challenged by peers

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Peers voted decisively to reject amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on 8 July 2013, the first day of report stage in the Lords.

Conservative peer Lord Mackay of Clashfern's amendment would have recognised the "distinction" between marriages by referring in the bill to "marriage (same sex couples)" and "marriage (opposite sex couples)" - but it was defeated by 314 votes to 119.

Fellow Conservative Baroness Cumberlege then spoke to her amendment which would allow registrars to opt-out of conducting same sex marriages, but this was also rejected by peers, by 278 votes to 103.

The bill proposes that couples who are the same sex can get married. Changes will not be forced on religious organisations who will have to "opt in" to holding ceremonies.

Tory Lord Mackay insisted his amendment was the very minimum necessary to recognise the "distinction that exists in fact between marriage for same sex couples and marriage for opposite sex couples".

Fellow conservative peer Lord Cormack urged peers to "meet us half-way" in the amendment and listen to the "many people [who] are concerned about the social change in enacting this bill".

But Labour peer Lord Alli warned the move would deal a "fatal blow" to the bill's intentions.

He said the amendment would create "two classes of marriage" and argued that the word marriage should be able to be used by couples regardless of their sexual orientation.

Former Conservative minister Lord Deben described the plan as a "wrecking" amendment.

Britain has a "terrible history" in its treatment of gay people, he said. If people thought supporters of the bill were going too far "put it down to what we have done in the past to gay people".

'Equality and liberty dilemma'

Later, Baroness Cumberlege tabled an amendment for registrars with a conscientious objection to same sex marriages to be given an opt-out from performing the ceremonies.

She said the lack of protection for currently serving registrars was "unfair and inconsistent with other areas of law".

The Liberal Democrats' Baroness Williams of Crosby said this issue presented a "real dilemma here about equality and liberty".

"I find it quite puzzling why they cannot have conscientious objection given that we know there are certain religions that will find this very hard to accept", she said.

Speaking for Labour, Baroness Thornton said she was not in favour of the amendment: "Registrars are public servants and have a duty to dispense their responsibilities without discrimination."

Advocate General for Scotland Lord Wallace of Tankerness agreed: "There is an important matter of principle here. Marriage registrars are public servants, they are performing statutory duties on behalf of the state and should be expected to perform these duties in accordance with law without discrimination."

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