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

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.