The Public Bill Committee commenced hearing evidence on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill on Tuesday 12 January, here, and the morning debate ended with the following exchange, [Col 54]
The Chair: A final question from Chris Bryant.
Q153 Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Which I did not want to ask, but I have been told that I am to ask another question. I want to check another anomaly and check that my understanding of the law is correct. At the moment, as I understand it, a same-sex couple who go for a civil partnership, whether in a registry office or a registered hotel or wherever, can use religious imagery, whereas a heterosexual couple getting married in a civil ceremony in a registry office or hotel—exactly the same places—are not allowed to. The registrar will tell the heterosexual couple that they cannot have “Stairway to Heaven” because although it is not generally reckoned to be a hymn it none the less refers to heaven; they cannot have “Angels”, because again, although it is not generally reckoned to be a hymn—it might be a hymn to love, I suppose—it refers to angelic presences; they are not allowed “Jerusalem”. Basically, “Jerusalem”—[Interruption.] I did not have any of those; we had “Moon River”. I am right that, in law, there is an anomaly at the moment, and that will not change in the future. Same-sex couples will still be allowed to have religious references in civil partnerships but straight couples will not.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: Chris, I had no idea that that kind of musical discrimination was taking place. I will now make it my life’s work to campaign for change.
The noble Baroness should look elsewhere for fulfilment. Chris Bryant was rightly hesitant to ask the question, and may inform those with concerns in this area that it was based upon an incorrect assessment of the law regarding i] the alleged discrimination issue, and ii] the permissible “religious” content of such ceremonies.
The Explanatory Note to the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 SI 2661, although not part of the Regulations, is unambiguous in stating
“Regulation 2(18) (and Schedule 3), inserts a new Schedule 2A [ [into the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005, SI 3168]. This sets out the conditions that an authority must attach to an approval of religious premises. These largely mirror those that are attached to approvals of other premises (and contained in Schedule 2 to the 2005 Regulations) but with a number of notable exceptions: section 2(5) of the 2004 Act prohibits any religious service taking place whilst the civil partnership registrar is officiating at the formation. By virtue of Schedule 2 to the 2005 Regulations the civil partnership formation may not be religious in nature and for these purposes this includes any introduction to, interval or conclusion to those proceedings. In relation to religious premises this prohibition applies only during the proceedings themselves (paragraph 15 of Schedule 2A)”, [emphasis added]
In para.. 11(3) Schedule 2 and para 15(3) Schedule 2A of the 2005 Regulations, as amended by the 2011 Regulations,
“the proceedings may include readings, songs, or music that contain an incidental reference to a god or deity in an essentially non-religious context, [emphasis added].
It is possible, however, that local interpretations may differ, thus giving rise to concerns in this area.