The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has lent its support to equal marriage rights for gay couples and called for faiths to be allowed to perform gay weddings if they so choose, saying the European Court of Human Rights has shown it is ‘not going to force religious groups to conduct same-sex marriages’.
In its response to the government’s public consultation on how to introduce marriage equality, the lawyers’ body said the current ban on gay marriages “constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation” and has “no justification” in law.
The Law Society also recommends the government allow faith groups to hold gay weddings ceremonies if they wish, something it has so far not proposed to permit, while protecting those which do not wish to conduct them.
The response says: “Many faiths hold the view that marriage can be between a man and a woman only. This should be respected and protected from legal challenge.”
But, it continues: “There are other faiths or religious groups for which the definition of marriage can comprise two men or two women. It is difficult to find any reason why faith groups should not be able to conduct same-sex marriages on their premises should they so wish, especially since they can already conduct same-sex civil partnerships.
“Imposing a ban on religious groups who wish to conduct samesex marriage on their premises would also infringe on religious freedom.”
It added that civil partnerships ought to be opened up to straight couples, saying: “We cannot see any reason why civil partnerships should not be open to heterosexual couples who want to formalise their union without the connotations that the term ‘marriage’ can bring. The issue is equal access and non-discrimination.”
John Wotton, the President of the Law Society said today: “Our response is based on our commitment to equality before the law and to equality and diversity in society generally.
“Such an important social institution as marriage should be equally accessible to all. From a legal perspective, there is no justification for the current discrimination and lack of equal access to marriage to remain in place. We therefore agree with the Government’s proposals.”
On fears that EU laws could force faiths to conduct gay and straight marriage ceremonies, Mr Wotton added: “The European Court of Human Rights has already indicated that it sees same-sex marriage as a matter for national authorities, and that it is not going to force religious groups to conduct same-sex marriages.
The Society’s vice president, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, told Radio 4′s Today programme it was “inconceivable” that the Strasbourg court would force a faith group to conduct a gay wedding against its beliefs.
She added that the European Court of Human Rights might in fact object more to a blanket ban on religious gay wedding ceremonies, adding: “What it might say is that religious organisations should be allowed to if they want to.”