The minister for faith has broken ranks on gay marriage to warn that David Cameron’s controversial legislation could have a string of ‘unintended consequences’.
In a letter leaked to the Daily Mail, Baroness Warsi suggests schools could be required to teach about same-sex unions, while individual priests and churches who refuse to conduct them risk being sued.Her intervention will embolden more than 100 Tory MPs who are threatening to vote against the legislation in the New Year.Writing to Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who unveiled the planned legislation on Tuesday, Lady Warsi raises a series of questions about the change in the law.
She demands ‘clarity’ on how the new law will properly ‘protect religious freedom’ and asks: ‘What legal support will be afforded to churches and other places of worship if they’re challenged individually or as an organisation?’ Lady Warsi, who attends Cabinet and is also senior minister for the Foreign Office, asks what legal advice the Government has received in relation to the compatibility of gay marriage legislation with ‘domestic and European law’.Most contentiously, the peer, who held talks on the issue this week with Church of England leaders, asks: ‘What consideration has been given to the teaching of equal marriage in schools, both faith schools and non-faith schools?’
Her letter, sent after Mrs Miller outlined her plans to MPs, was copied to Education Secretary Michael Gove, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, Attorney General Dominic Grieve and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.The Cabinet signed off the plans this week, but Lady Warsi’s letter suggests that serious reservations – understood to be shared by other ministers, such as Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – remain.Lady Warsi tells Mrs Miller that as minister for faith she has received a ‘large volume of calls in relation to this matter’ from groups seeking assurance ‘about a number of aspects of the policy’.
She writes: ‘How will we ensure that the legislation will protect religious freedom? What legal protection will churches and other places of worship be afforded from challenges if they refuse to undertake same-sex marriage?‘What legal support will be afforded to churches and other places of worship if they’re challenged individually or as an organisation?’Lady Warsi also reflects concerns that schools could be required to teach children about same-sex marriage. Under the Education Act 1996, pupils must learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life and the bringing up of children.
Exchanges between Government officials released under freedom of information laws earlier this year suggested that if plans to allow gay couples to marry are passed into law, same-sex marriage might also have to be added to the sex education curriculum.But the Education Department has repeatedly insisted that teachers will still be able to refuse to teach anything considered inappropriate to the religious or cultural backgrounds of their pupils.
Colin Hart, campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage, a campaign group opposing same-sex ceremonies, said: ‘Baroness Warsi is absolutely right when she highlights that the Government has failed to even pretend to try to protect teachers and other public sector workers from the effects of their gay marriage proposals.‘Only a couple of weeks ago, an education minister admitted that the Government still hasn’t a clue on the effects of their policy on teachers, schools and parents who hold traditional views on marriage. How many more months do they need?’
Mrs Miller’s attempt to broker a compromise, by promising a special legal ban on gay marriages in the Church of England, appears to have satisfied no one. Under Government plans unveiled on Tuesday, religious same-sex marriages will be allowed in civil venues and places of worship that want to opt in.But, as an extra safeguard in what the Culture Secretary called a ‘quadruple lock’, the legislation will also outlaw any such ceremony in the Church of England and the Church in Wales.
However the Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan said: ‘In my personal opinion, it’s a great pity it’s illegal for us not to even have the possibility to do it. It should be left for us to opt in or opt out.’And gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said banning the Church of England from performing same-sex marriages could breach of EU law.Lady Warsi’s letter is understood to have caused irritation at the departments for culture and education, where officials have repeatedly brushed aside suggestions that legalising same-sex marriage could have implications for what is taught in the classroom.’Sayeeda wading into this in this way after the policy has been agreed is very unhelpful,’ said one Whitehall source. – Dailymail