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Minister: No conscience clause for registrars opposed to same-sex marriage

By on Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Maria Miller addresses the House of Commons on same-sex marriage Photo: Press Association

Maria Miller addresses the House of Commons on same-sex marriage Photo: Press Association

Registrars must agree to solemnise same-sex marriage, regardless of whether they hold a moral or religious objection, the Equalities Minister has said.

In a letter to Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, dated February 3, Maria Miller said that although there were legal protections for clergy and other religious organisations, “the clause specifically excludes registrars and superintendent registrars, making clear that these public servants will have to be ready to take part in marriages of same sex couples.”

She continued: “We need to ensure that we strike the right balance between an individual’s right to express their religious beliefs at work and the rights of people not to be discriminated against because of sexual orientation, and we think that the Bill properly draws that balance.”

Archbishop Smith has responded to the letter, by issuing a detailed memorandum to the Public Bill Committee, which will be analysing amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the following weeks.

In the written memorandum, Archbishop Smith asked why the Bill did not protect everyone with a moral objection to registering a same-sex marriage.

He said: “It is unclear why the protection proposed for those with conscientious objections to same sex marriage only applies to protect clergy or others within Churches from being obliged themselves to conduct such a marriage. Clause 2(4)(a) provides explicitly that the protections do not extend to include ‘a registrar, a superintendent registrar or the Registrar General’.

“The government thus seeks to protect individuals from being ‘compelled’ to conduct same sex marriages even if their religious organisations have opted-in; but it has failed to protect individuals in other circumstances, where the state is involved.”

The obligation on registrars to solemnise same-sex marriage, regardless of religion or belief, was also reiterated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission earlier this week in formal guidance which they submitted to MPs.

  • Guest007

    The definition of a fundamentalist probably accordingly to Maria Miller: A practicising Catholic who refuses to compromise on his/her beliefs under any circumstance.

    Whose law is greater than that of man??….the law of god

    Why the state still thinks it has jurisdiction in the institution of marriage I have no idea..the Church does not recognise “state civil unions” whether they be between a man or woman or two people of the same sexes..not just the Church but any other religion out there …it is just a artificially constructed piece of paper/contract with the state….it is not the institution of marriage which is a divine union between a man and woman professing their life long commitments before god and for the procreation of children.

    The Church should not be anywhere near these civil registrars because they are a man made construct which came about as a result of civil marriage laws…..there is no such thing as civil marriage..laws can be made and rescinded over night…it is because of these civil marriage laws that this so called “gay marriage” has a platform to exist because like I said…the state can amend or redefine a law just as easily as rescinde it…it is an artificial construct which society for many years has bought into as a result giving them a false sense of security regarding what the meaning of marriage is.

    We hear alot of people say…ohhhh religion and politics should be separate…well okay if that is the case then marriage regardless of what religion you associate it with…then in practice marriage should be left in the relm of religion and the state should have nothing to do with it….in this country the Anglicans have made a mockery of the Christin faith just look at the state they are in…no country where a state religion exists does the state pass any laws which contradict the religious beliefs of the country…yet its happend can you be married in the Church then go and ask the made secular courts to end a marriage which the Church did?? Divorce is not part of Christianity. 

    In some states even where “gay marriage” does not exist they promote financial incentives such as tx breks etc..this will sound controversial but the state should not even be doing that…why??….because even if the existing civil marriage laws state it is between a man and woman it will give opportunists the reason to try and change it just so they can get hold of the financial benefits..nothing else.

    Catholics are going have to get used to the idea that there is no need
    to have a civil marriage before or after the sacramental Church wedding
    like they do even in some Catholic countries….once you are married in
    the eyes of god…why do you need the state to recognise it when our
    lord is of a much higher power and authority??

    Marriage is a product of religion not the state and it should be left in the relm of religion..if you do not believe in its sanctitity then you are not to be married..our schools will have to teach marriage in the eyes of the Church alot more strictly.

  • JabbaPapa

    Then this is War, pure and simple, between Church and State.

    “the clause specifically excludes registrars and superintendent registrars”

    AKA this clause provides direct and willful discrimination against the religious beliefs and freedoms of some Britons versus the beliefs and freedoms of other Britons.

    Fundamentalist secularism is destroying the very foundation of the Unwritten Constitution …

  • celtictaff

    This is the filth of the EU, and European governments must obey. All Christians are now in a war with the secular World. Remember the Anti-drugs slogan, just say NO, with no compromise, and never enter into discussions on the subject. On this subject there is no leeway.
    Now we shall see the true leaders of the Christian World, those who will stand firm and those of Satan who will bend and compromise with this evil.

  • Kevin

    “we think that the Bill properly draws that balance”

    How? What is the balance algorithm?

  • Veuster

    (Posted by mistake – sorry!)

  • Veuster

    What’s new? At no time during my life would I have been able in conscience to work as a Registrar, because I would have been compelled to solemnise adulterous ‘marriages’ between divorced people with partners living.

  • Sweetjae

    These attacks (violation of one’s religious freedom and conscience) had been prophesied by the Documents of Dignitatis Humanae and Religious Freedom of V2. Same with Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae if the world succumbed to Artificial Contraception, there will be coming the storm of abortions, euthanasia, gay-marriage, pornography etc. It’s happening right in front of our eyes.

  • whytheworldisending

    The Minister says that the measure strikes a balance between competing rights, but she is jumping the gun. Competing (Convention) rights have to be balanced once it has been established that the government measure is being taken in pursuit of a legitimate aim AND is NECESSARY in a democratic society in ordeer to achieve that aim. Only then does the Court consider whether the correct balance has been struck, by considering whether the measure is a proportionate one in terms of the extent to which it interferes with the rights of others.

    Firstly, the Bill itself is NOT NECESSARY for the pursuit of any legitimate aim, since it affords homosexuals no more legal rights than they have already obtained by way of the more proportionate government measure which introduced civil partnerships.

    Secondly, notwithstanding that the Bill is UNECESSARY for the pursuit of any legitimate aim, because it represents a far-reaching and extensive interference with the (Convention) rights of workers, parents, children and religious to family life, employment, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression, it cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be thought of as proportionate, and can only be described as completely unbalanced in favour of homosexuals and atheists, as against children, parents, workers and people of faith. 

    The Minister should therefore stand back and look at the broader picture. The Bill itself is an unecessary and grossly disproportionate interference with the rights of British parents, teachers, workers, children, and religious – not to mention right-thinking Conservatives. It will not survive (with or without the Registrar clause) the first application for a declaration of incompatibility, because it flies in the face of everything the European Court of Human Rights is supposed to stand for.  

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    This is politically very short-sighted but then that is what this particular minister is.Catholics will have to raise their profile. But as MM knows full well, all the other political parties support this move too.

    Time for demonstrations, protests, snubs, and letters. Otherwise who knows where this will end? It is surely absurd that the rights of a particular sexual preference are forcibly imposed on the beliefs and conscience of a community which has existed in Britain for 1,500 years.

  • GratefulCatholic

    Very true SJ, and foretold by Daniel, 11:37.

  • majorcalamity

    Another really silly reaction. The state is going to considerable lengths to ensure Churches do not have to compromise on their principles. No registrar has to compromise their beliefs either, but they are public servants, and are paid to do a job. They don’t get paid by the Church. They have a choice to either do their job, or get another.

    This isn’t war but you risk a lot by trying to turn up the heat by so describing it. You are already marginalised and if you push this in this way you will start to appear ridiculous. 

  • majorcalamity

    For any Catholic that must be the right answer. If that is how you regard marriage, and your beliefs come ahead of your public duty, then you cannot be a Registrar.

  • majorcalamity

    The Minister is 100% correct and only those with a narrow view of reality will be unable to see it. Registrars are public servants. We pay them to do what the state says is lawful. No-one can ignore the law. We can GRANT exceptions, if it does not disadvantage others, but a balance has to be found. That requires a judgement to be made, and that has to be done in a neutral, fair way, and not by those with a particular point of view. You are always going to see it as unfair, but that’s because you cannot be truly objective on the issue. 

    Registrars who happen to be Catholic have been remarrying divorced people for years. That is surely no more against their principals than marrying same sex couples. If not, why not?  

  • Parasum

    “In the written memorandum, Archbishop Smith asked why the Bill did not protect everyone with a moral objection to registering a same-sex marriage.

    He said: “It is unclear why…where the state is involved.””

    ## Maybe there is analogy between the Govt.’s thinking, & that of the CC.

    The CC does not allow for “conscientious objection” to dogma – all must be accepted, nor some or many or most. And yet, the CC has a doctrine of the rights of conscience. There is no contradiction here. For, the doctrine of the rights of conscience, considered as a doctrine, is within the set of doctrines taught by the Church. The doctrine is for the sake of, is “ordered to”, the faculty, power, & exercise of conscience: but it does not follow from being (under one of its aspects) a doctrine, that another aspect of conscience, its exercise, can rightly be used to reject Catholic teaching. That is not the function of the Church’s teaching that the conscience has rights.  

    “[T]he protections do not extend to includ[ing] ‘a registrar, a superintendent registrar or the Registrar General”, because those persons are not, in those capacities, private persons, but public persons; they are officials of the state: their function is to act in a way which (taking into account the kind of function they have) allows the law of the state regarding marriage to be made effective. This may include requiring them to register marriages to which they – as private persons – object. But the state does not object; so they cannot plead the objections they may have as private persons, to hinder what the state requires of them in their capacity as officials of the state.

    Conscientious objection does not have the social function of giving state functionaries the freedom to perform their work only when to do so commends itself to them. If it did, the registration of marriage would become subject to the likes and dislikes of the individual registrar.  That is no basis for society, and it is the end for coherent & just law-making. Here too, a freedom regarding one aspect of  conscience cannot rightly be interpreted as allowing the exercise of it to deprive others in society of the liberties or rights assured them by law. That is not the function of laws that the conscience has rights.

    The State cannot make absolute demands on its subjects’ obedience – neither can the Church. That does not mean that these societies (different in character as they are) do not have rights. STM the Abp. was at an disadvantage, b/c his argument can’t really be separated from the question of the relation between Church, State, & the freedom of the individual.

  • Kerriblu

    Indeed it is. God help us!

  • CullenD

    START to appear ridiculous?????

  • JeffreyRO55

    To test the religious conscience theory, are there actual examples of Registrars who have refused to perform marriages between fornicators or adulterers? It would really strengthen the argument regarding their religious rights if there were evidence of similarly objecting to having to marry divorced persons or persons who had pre-marital sex, or even marriages of Atheists (if you believe God is involved in marriage). Otherwise it just looks like opportunism at gay peoples’ expense.

  • Mark

     Britain has the history of idolatry of the law whereby what is legal or illegal by law equals what is right or wrong in people’s minds. In reality corrupt politicians often make corrupt laws and no amount of false polls saying that a certain amount of people agree with them can make an immoral law right. If people had courage like Martin Luther King to disobey evil laws then they would eventually be changed.

  • Kevin

    In the sixteenth century and before, the basis for persecuting Catholics/Christians was obedience to the king.

    In the early twentieth century, Christianity was attacked by materialist believers in racial superiority or class hatred.

    Now Catholics are under attack for pointing out that life begins at conception and buggery is not sex.

    What next? Are the trivialising bigots going to object to how we break our eggs?

  • majorcalamity

    I was just being charitable, as charity is in short supply at this location.

  • Nat_ons

    Not quite; the United Kingdom did not introduce abortion etc in response to European Court rulings  .. what the Britain (and Ireland, in its wake) now faces is the logical consequence of previous parliamentary decisions.

    In other words, the chickens have come home to roost – and what a prize of new laid eggs await us all because of them.

    Europe’s Justice System may well be the sole firm protection that Catholic Faith can expect to access in the West. 

  • Cestius

    In other words, believing Catholics need not apply for this job.  Or for that matter, serious evangelical Christians or anyone else that has qualms either.  A nasty spiteful piece of legislation which is completely unnecessary, the tiny percentage of homosexual unions could easily be catered for by a specialist contractor who would probably do a better job for those that wanted it.  But no, the so-called liberals want Christians to either act against conscience to prove that they don’t really take their beliefs seriously, or lose their jobs.  A bit reminiscent of the ancient Japanese practice of forcing suspected Christians to “walk the fumi” to prove that they weren’t serious.  And all this from so-called liberals – that word must now be a joke.

  • majorcalamity

    Campaigning against great injustice, as did Martin Luther King, brings a ground swell of public outrage in the wake of eyes being opened and minds being engaged. If you think that your position on this is similar then go right ahead and campaign. Break the law. Get fined and jailed and see how much public sympathy you achieve. I don’t think it will be too much, for I think you are pretty much alone on this. Just because YOU feel it is an immoral, or corrupt, law does not make it so.

    A better comparison with the result of MLK’s campaigning would be the growth of understanding and sympathy with the cause of achieving equality for disadvantaged groups, of which SSM is but a part.

  • majorcalamity

    Where have I ever claimed that “truth is based on popular opinion? I don’t think that at all. Indeed, I think the whole concept of truth being presented as an absolute is a warped idea. However, in a democracy the only measure we have of where the balance of opinions lies is to listen to them. Our representatives don’t have to act upon any, but eventually, if those opinions are powerful enough, they will hold sway. Unless you prefer to see a non democratic system of government, such as a theocracy, then what we have is the best achievable. I won’t be voting for a theocracy, and nor do I think enough people will for it to happen ever again. So you have little choice other than to try to work within our democratic system to try achieve your aims. Just like everyone else. 

    So my comparison is more valid because it has caught hold in the public imagination of what is fair and reasonable, whereas yours is being seen to be out of date and in need of revision. It has nothing to do with “truth”, because in this case, as in so many, what is true for you is not for others.

  • Justin

    And yet doctors have the right to conscientiously object to perform abortions which is legal in this country.

    What’s the difference here?

  • rjt1

    Who does not have ‘a particular point of view’?

  • rjt1

    It is not your ‘public duty’ to do things which you believe to be wrong.

  • rjt1

    Seems like you think there is one absolute truth, namely that ‘there is no absolute truth’ (self-refuting) or is this just ‘true for you’.

  • majorcalamity

    Doctors are not public servants! They are contracted by the NHS, and not employed by them. As such they have more control over what and what not they will do.

  • majorcalamity

    No-one. The point is that no particular point of view should be allowed to discriminate, if it is out of line with the law. Those who conscientiously object always have an option. They are NOT being forced to do anything against their will. All that is being required is that if we pay them to do a job, they do it. The choice is entirely theirs.

  • rjt1

    But what if the law is unjust or absurd?

    When you say ‘no particular point of view should be allowed to discriminate’ I think one might also ask: is that your point of view?

  • majorcalamity

    No, I think many people tend to confuse opinion with truth. Of course, there are some absolute truths. They are otherwise known as facts. Everything else is opinion.

  • majorcalamity

    Whether a law is unjust or absurd is always a matter of opinion. I think that some laws are too. Just my opinion. I accept I am bound by them though. 

    Of course it is my point of view. The fact though is that if it is shared by those who decide our laws, it will be what we all have to abide by.  

  • rjt1

    “I think many people tend to confuse opinion with truth”. That looks like the expression of an opinion.
    How would you distinguish a ‘fact’ from an opinion?

  • rjt1

    So if tomorrow the law were to tell you to kill Jews, you would just have to comply with it?

    Clearly not. Why? Because it would be immoral.

    I think this shows that there is a higher standard than the civil law, namely morality. It is against that standard that we measure the law.

    Given the above, law can’t be the source of morality.
    It just isn’t enough to say: ‘there’s a law about that so it must be ok’.

    You say that you would have to abide by an unjust law. I don’t believe you would want to do that, on reflection.

  • majorcalamity

    I have heard this silly type of justification from Catholics before. Why is it silly? Because the law does not tell us to kill Jews, and I trust our democratic system to never make such laws. Democracy is our greatest protection against injustice, and not the bringer of it. It is only in authoritarian systems, like theocracies, when such things can actually happen. In such systems I can well understand those who feel they cannot abide by the law. Not though in a genuine democracy like ours.

    Our system provides plenty of opportunity to expose that you feel is unjust, and to campaign against it. 

    The law may not be the source of morality, because we are, but it reflects it very well. We all have to follow the law and not cherry pick those we like, and those we believe are unjust. Just imagine the consequences if pedophiles thought they did not have to abide by the law, because they believe it is unjust.

  • Paul Padley

    But they are allowed to wear a crucifix no?

  • majorcalamity

    So you must exercise your freewill and decide that you are unable to do the job required of you. No-one forces you to do anything you believe to be wrong. 

  • liquafruta


  • liquafruta

    You are absolutely right.

  • liquafruta

    It will end in nothing very exciting. The world will still go on pretty much as it always has. All those postcards were just a total waste of time and energy. The thing to protest about is world poverty, human trafficking and the spread of Aids in Africa.

  • JabbaPapa

    This discussion between the two of you leads nowhere but to semantic disorder, confusion, and the destruction of meaning.

    Opinions differ, in fact, from facts because facts are generally accepted as truths, whereas opinions enjoy only a local or idiotic acceptance.

    Opinions may be freely disagreed with ; generally accepted truths, however, may only be disagreed with on the basis of a solid, well-formed argument.

    The differences between opinion and fact are objectively observable ; and they are generally accepted as being true.

    But to disagree with this particular general truth is to disagree with the very basis of the difference between true and false, thereby to destroy the very notions that are being argued about ; and this would be both inherently and objectively incoherent (it cannot be “true” that “truth” has no basis, by definition), ergo it must be absolutely rejected — except in certain specialist fields such as semiotics, epistemology, rhetorics, various general and specialist disciplines of linguistics, and general philosophy, where the nature of truth itself can become a discrete topic of investigation.

  • JabbaPapa

    So that in other words you agree that these rules would actively hinder faithful Catholics from gaining access to these forms of employment, for reasons of open discrimination against their religious freedom, quod erat demonstrandum ?

  • rjt1

    I think I would agree that the civil law is an expression of morality, but it is subject to distortion, just as personal morality may be (as in the case of paedophiles). This means we cannot give it an absolute adherence.

    I would consider legislating for  ‘gay marriage’, which I consider to be unreal, to be one such distortion.

  • rjt1

    Jabba, I do believe that there is such a thing as truth. With St Thomas, I hold that some things are self-evident. It is ultimately silly to dispute them, e.g. the principle of non-contradiction; that there is something rather than nothing(This does not mean that all self-evident truths are immediately obvious: some work may be needed to uncover them).

    Controversially (in the present climate of opinion), I hold that there are moral facts. This is because I reject the fact/value distinction. This in turn is because I accept that ‘being’ and ‘good’ are convertible (cf. St Thomas). What is, insofar as it is, is good (evil being a defect). The good is what is desirable as fulfilling the (objectively determinable) nature of the being that desires it.

    I would not say that something is a fact because it is ‘generally accepted’.

    When you say: “Opinions differ, in fact, from facts because facts are generally accepted as truths” that looks like the expression of an opinion.

  • rjt1

    That must ultimately be the choice, I guess, in this case, but there is no harm in trying to find alternative solutions, if possible.  Martyrdom is honourable but there is no need to rush to the chopping block. The question needs to be raised as to whether employees with a conscientious objection can be accommodated. Moreover, it is everyone’s right to challenge the minister’s assertion in court, rather than just taking her word for it.

    You are quite right that nobody forces you to do wrong, but no one desires to be put under pressure to do wrong either.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh — I certainly agree with you that there are such things as truth, and facts, and moral facts !!!

    I was making a point about the necessity for metalinguistic analysis of whatever nature, rather than ordinary language, if one wants to discuss their nature.

    Theology, with its grounding in Philosophy and therefore as informed via Philosophy by neurolinguistics, general linguistics, and grammar theory, is also an excellent method for the rational examination of these things.

    When you say: “Opinions differ, in fact, from facts because facts are
    generally accepted as truths” that looks like the expression of an

    No — it’s a logical conclusion based on the objective nature of factuality itself, and the statement facts are
    generally accepted as truths
    is quasi-axiomatic.

    I mean OK — facts that people are not generally aware of are not of a generally accepted nature — except that in conversation, when these facts may enter into the discussion, their general acceptability (by the participants in the conversation) is the linguistic cause of their truthfulness.

    In a commercial transaction with a butcher, the butcher will be aware of the price of what you are buying ; but you will be unaware of the price until he informs you of it ; and this fact becomes true when the butcher informs you of the fact, and you and your butcher agree to its veracity, hence truth.

    NONE of which prevents an entirely superior Order of Truth to be existent in Nature ; nor the transcendental nature of Truth itself, which resides with God.

    This is an extremely complex and very involved group and multiply interweaved topics — and simply making black and white, stark oppositions between truth and opinion does not do justice to the theology, nor the philosophy, nor the linguistics, nor the semiotics, nor the semantics, nor the epistemology, nor even the grammar.

    The “simpler” point that I was making is that truth and facts are endowed of objective qualities, that are logically incoherent with relativistic conceptions ; by reason of the very definition of these concepts in the first place.

  • majorcalamity

    We agree completely. By all means let the decision be challenged. These judgements are difficult, and the correct balance between competing rights are hard to achieve. The most important thing though is that everyone recognises that others also have rights. Respect that and we can all get along.

  • majorcalamity

    It is a question of competing rights and the need for judgements to be made as to where balance is achieved. You have a particular view, but that doesn’t make it right, or where the judgement is going to be made. Accept your view and others get disadvantaged. 

    No-one’s religious freedom is actually being discriminated against. Their right to worship is not compromised. They are not being forced to work in a way against their conscience. They have contracted duties, paid for by us. They have a choice. Providing choice is not discrimination. 

  • majorcalamity

    However a majority of MPs, and the general public, don’t agree with you. We all have objections to particular aspects of the law, but for the system to work we absolutely must abide by them. That applies as much to you as to me.