As Britain gears up for its first civil partnership ceremonies this December, it has emerged that hundreds of traditional wedding venues including hotels and even some registry offices have been turning away so called “gay weddings”.
The Civil Partnerships Act that comes into force later this year, will allow same sex couples to register their relationship and receive many of the legal and tax rights of straight married couples.
Whilst local authorities are required under the law to allow the actual registration of the relationship, they are not required to provide facilities or opportunities for the ceremony that many gay couples yearn for.
At present, two councils, Bromley in London and Lisburn in Northern Ireland, have announced that they will not allow ceremonies, while a considerable number of other local authorities have yet to announce their stance on the issue.
The government’s Women’s and Equality Unit, who are responsible for the introduction of Civil Partnerships, own leaflets say that the ceremonies are purely optional. “You will be able to arrange a ceremony in addition to the signing of the legal documentation if you wish, but a ceremony is not required under the Act. It is up to you to decide. Local authorities might offer a ceremony but there are other organisations who also offer ceremonies too.”
The decision on whether to allow the ceremony is made by local councillors, not the register office themselves. The leader of Bromley council, Conservative, Stephen Carr, said: “It cannot be a marriage because a marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that undermining family values is dangerous.” Tory leader, Michael Howard, who supports Civil Partnerships, has claimed that he is unable to force the council to change their mind.
The position of the hundreds of hotels and banqueting suites that have reportedly been turning away business from gay couples is less clear-cut. Whilst commercially, it may not make a great deal of sense to turn away business purely on homophobic grounds, the business owners are unlikely to be in breach of any laws.
Whilst current legislation in force protects gay and lesbians on discrimination in the work place, it as yet does not extend to discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Businesses are therefore within their rights to choose not to offer their services to particular groups of people without giving any explanation.
However, the Minister for Women and Equality, Meg Munn has been reported as saying that legislation will be introduced to cover this form of discrimination during the lifetime of this parliament, ideally within the next three years.