Several members of the House of Lords were probably already in bed by the time their colleagues voted last night to allow the use of religious elements in same-sex civil partnerships. But those of us who have long waited for this vote were wide awake.
It was 11.09pm when it was declared that the proposal had been carried by 95 votes to 21 – a bigger margin that it ever occurred to me to hope for.
This was a great victory for two causes about which I feel very passionate – sexual equality and religious liberty.
Gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians – and many others – have longed for the freedom to celebrate their love in the context of their faith. Some of my friends were on the verge of tears as they contemplated marrying their partners in a spirit of worship.
Of course, things need to go much further – same-sex partnerships can still not be described in law as marriages. And the confusion of the legalities of the situation emphasises the need for marriage law as a whole to be thoroughly overhauled, as Ekklesia has long argued.
Today, Ekklesia, the Quakers, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Stonewall and Peter Tatchell all issued press releases welcoming the result. But Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON) issued a release describing the decision as “outrageous”.
In an extraordinarily bitter statement, CCFON said that the vote took “everyone by surprise”. I suspect they mean that it took them by surprise, as they do not appear to have been following its progress. It was first debated in the Lords in January.
CCFON deplore the way in which the vote was passed late at night by a small group of people. I am disappointed that we had to rely on a vote in the unelected House of Lords to achieve this change, although I suspect that a free vote in the Commons would have resulted in the same decision.
As CCFON appear to be concerned about the undemocratic nature of the House of Lords, I urge them to join Ekklesia in supporting Power 2010, an initiative aimed at securing meaningful democratic change. They may wish to recall how many of Jesus’ comments were focused on the abuse of power.
Unfortunately, CCFON had no problem with the Lords a few weeks ago, when peers narrowly voted to reduce the rights of employees in faith-based organisations, giving their bosses the freedom to discriminate on grounds of sexuality.
CCFON’s angry response is particularly ironic given their frequent references to religious liberty and their repeated claims that Christians in the UK are being discriminated against. If CCFON want to meet Christians who really have faced discrimination, I encourage them to talk with some of those gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians who cried with joy last night.