Religion and law round-up – 24th May

Your weekly fix of the most important law & religion stories – and some very minor ones…

Ireland, cakes and same-sex relationships

Perhaps the major law & religion news story of the week was the outcome of the dispute over Gareth Lee’s order for a cake from Ashers Bakery bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and a picture of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He won his discrimination claim in the Belfast County Court: you can read all about it here.

Meanwhile, voters in Ireland voted almost two to one in favour of amending the Constitution to permit same-sex marriage. Voters were asked whether they agreed with the statement: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex” and Roscommon-South Leitrim was the only constituency to vote “No”. Just over 60 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots: the highest turnout at a constitutional referendum in over two decades.

The next steps are for the Government to bring forward amending legislation in Dáil Éireann, with the possibility of the first ceremonies taking place before the end of the year, and for the Roman Catholic bishops to ponder the comments of Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, who is reported to have called for the Church to take a “reality check” following the overwhelming vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

A good start might be Dr Ed Peters’ post “Bad ideas know no borders” in which he addresses the possibility of same-sex marriage in Ireland and concludes “we can and should cooperate with the State in regard to marriage for so long as what the State requires is not contrary to divine or canon law (c. 22). And certifying religiously married Catholics as married in the eyes of civil law is not remotely contrary to divine or canon law.”

[Update: With regard to the referendum itself, Dr Peters has now posted on personal implications for Catholics’ public actions and the [Anglican] Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland have issued a Press Release stating:

“…The Church of Ireland … defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the result of this referendum does not alter this … Marriage services taking place in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the Church of Ireland may – in compliance with church teaching, liturgy and canon law – continue to celebrate only marriage between a man and a woman.

We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.”]

The Kirk and clergy in same-sex relationships

The other big news was from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Last week we noted that that the General Assembly had voted to allow congregations to ordain or induct ministers and deacons in civil partnerships. The Assembly returned to the matter on Thursday and considered whether or not to extend that permission to ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages. In the event, the Assembly decided to send the matter down to presbyteries under the Barrier Act – so if a majority of presbyteries votes in favour of the move by the end of the year, the issue will be back on the agenda for the General Assembly in 2016. (In passing, it should be noted that the vote was about ministers and deacons in same-sex marriages, not about whether or not the Kirk should solemnise same-sex marriages: that is an entirely separate question.)

 A British Bill of Rights?

The list of contributions to what has so far been a rather one-sided debate grows longer and longer. We’ve posted two recent items ourselves:

For more general comment (mostly adverse but not entirely so), you might try some of these:

And, for completeness, this is what the Conservatives said in their Manifesto:

We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.

Bishops in the Lords

On Wednesday the Church of England announced that the Archbishop of Canterbury had appointed the Bishop of Birmingham, David Urquhart, as Convenor of the Lords Spiritual with immediate effect. He succeeds the Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, who was Convenor for nearly six years and retires as a diocesan bishop in July.

Second Church Estates Commissioner

The Queen has approved the appointment of Mrs Caroline Spelman MP as Second Church Estates Commissioner. Mrs Spelman has been the Member of Parliament for Meriden in the West Midlands since 1997 and is a former Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (2010-12), and was a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee during the previous session, (2014-15). Her parliamentary biography is here and a link to her spoken contributions in the 2014-15 session is here, during which she made a short contribution to the debate on the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure, [Oct 2014 Vol 586(45) Col 717]. A more comprehensive, but unofficial analysis is available on the Public Whip pages.

Regulated donations under the Transparency of Lobbying (etc) Act 2014

Third Sector reports (£) that Quakers in Britain received a total of £28,000 in donations from Lewes Quaker Meeting and Aylesbury Quaker Meeting for activities regulated by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 in the run-up to the general election. Readers will be aware that charities, campaign groups and other organisations had to register with the Electoral Commission if their spending on particular “regulated activities” in a pre-election period exceeded certain levels set out in the legislation. In total, twelve charities registered, of which only two were religious organisations: Quakers in Britain and the Salvation Army. Thus far, Quakers in Britain is the only charity to declare any such donations to the Electoral Commission.

Quick links

  • Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law: A Constitutional Crossroads: Ways Forward for the United Kingdom: report of a committee, largely composed of academics and chaired by Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell recommending a “Charter of Union” setting out the relationship between “the four nations of the Union”. Basically Unionist in tone, but likely to be influential in the continuing debate.

And finally … Religion and Legal Pluralism

Ashgate has announced that in July it will be publishing Religion and Legal Pluralism, a collection of essays edited by Russell Sandberg. The publisher’s description is as follows:

“In recent years, there have been a number of concerns about the recognition of religious laws and the existence of religious courts and tribunals. There has also been the growing literature on legal pluralism which seeks to understand how more than one legal system can and should exist within one social space. However, whilst a number of important theoretical works concerning legal pluralism in the context of cultural rights have been published, little has been published specifically on religion. Religion and Legal Pluralism explores the extent to which religious laws are already recognized by the state and the extent to which religious legal systems, such as Sharia law, should be accommodated.”

Both of us have contributed: David on quasi-law and religion and Frank on Quakers and same-sex marriage. Not quite an absolute snip at the website price of £63; but according to the reviewers, it is “an important contribution to debate about the consequences of [legal pluralism] (Anthony Bradney, Keele University, UK) in which “the assets and risks of this strategy are carefully and competently assessed … through an intelligent mix of theoretical contributions and case-studies” (Silvio Ferrari, University of Milan, Italy).

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