Today Britain’s House of Lords rejected an amendment aimed at destroying legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, bringing the bill closer to becoming law. Peers voted 390 to 148 to defeat the amendment, which was tabled by Crossbench peer Lord Dear.
The vote followed two days of debate in the House of Commons. Same-sex couples currently have the right to form civil partnerships; the new law would allow them to marry in England and Wales. If the bill is passed, religious organizations would need to “opt in” to offer gay weddings. However, the Church of England and Church in Wales would be banned from participating.
The bill split the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron backs the bill, as does Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
The peers were accused of rushing legislation since they voted to reject the amendment only after its second reading.
“The debate lifted the lid on the shoddy and undemocratic tactics of the Government who remained determined to ram this legislation through Parliament at all costs,” Colin Hart, campaign director for the Coalition of Marriage, remarked.
Gay rights activists are naturally thrilled. Ben Summerskill, head of the group Stonewall, stated: “We always expected a tough challenge in the House of Lords, and Lord Dear’s ‘fatal motion,’-very rarely used- demonstrates the lengths to which a minority of peers are, sadly, still prepared to go to deny full equality to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.”
However, there is still significant opposition among religious organizations. Ministers will soon deliberate changes to the bill that will allow religious groups more protection if they decide not to offer gay marriage services.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is among religious leaders and conservative activists who have spoken out against the bill. He says that his feelings stem from what he feels is best for society, not merely his faith. “The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense predating the state and as our base community of society is weakened,” Welby said.
Now that the bill has cleared its biggest hurdle in the House of Lords, it's evident that it will be signed into law, despite protests. Britain is another domino in Europe’s fight for gay marriage, with France legalizing it last month and Scotland promising to introduce a bill soon.