This afternoon, 27 April, the Northern Ireland Assembly debated a Private Members’ Business Motion on marriage equality. The motion, in the names of Caitríona Ruane, Sinn Féin MLA for South Down, and others, read as follows:
“That this Assembly welcomes the marriage equality referendum in the south of Ireland; notes that a growing number of parliaments across the world have embraced, and legislated for, marriage equality; respects the rights of the religious institutions to define, observe and practise marriage within their beliefs; and calls on the Executive to legislate for marriage equality for same sex couples so that all citizens will have the same legal entitlement to the protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage.”
In November 2014, the Revd Ephraim Radner and the Revd Christopher Seitz published The Marriage Pledge on the First Things web site, in an attempt to encourage priests and ministers to refuse to perform civil marriages: a response to their concerns regarding the changing governmental definition of marriage, primarily in the US, but acknowledging that similar changes are occurring elsewhere. The Pledge was in effect a unilateral decision of individual priests and ministers to reject the current situation in the United States in which religious certifications of marriage are accepted by the secular authorities.
Although initially appearing to gain a degree of traction within the US, it was criticized by some within the Roman Catholic Church, notably Dr Ed Peters, and also by Foley Beach, the Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), who sounded a strong note of caution. These developments were followed in L&RUK here and here, and five months on the Pledge has attracted only 444 signatories, including a number of laity for whom action in support of the Pledge is not within their gift. Continue reading →
Your weekly mash-up of all the law & religion news that’s fit to print – and some that’s not…
The House of Bishops and the General Election
This week saw the publication of what proved to be an unexpectedly-controversial pastoral letter from the Church of England’s House of Bishops – which we duly noted. The letter poses the question “how can we build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?” and expresses the hope that political parties will discern “a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be” ahead of the General Election.
The tone of the letter struck us as even-handed and scrupulously non-partisan; nevertheless, it created a media storm. The Telegraph quotedConservative MP Nadine Dorries, (late of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! – which, sad to say, someone did), to the effect that the Church is “always silent when people are seeking its voice” but “very keen to dive in” when no-one is asking for its opinion. She questioned why the bishops had not spoken out during the “spending frenzy” of the Labour Government: to which the rejoinder came that no less a figure than Archbishop Rowan himself had done precisely that in a Radio 4 interview in 2008 – reported in the Guardian under the headline Brown’s spending plans like ‘addict returning to the drug’, says archbishop. Continue reading →
Women as bishops, a Christian law school, kirpans in detention centres, conscientious objection, pagan weddings – and hazelnut & chocolate spread…
Rt Revd Libby Lane
On Tuesday at York Minster Libby Lane was consecrated to the suffragan see of Stockport and became the first female bishop in the Church of England. Although we have tended to use the term “women in the episcopate” rather than “women bishops”, the latter was a convenient shorthand for tagging posts: now they’re just “bishops”. End of a long and tortuous story; though in view of some of the remaining hostilities expressed this week, perhaps the CofE should run a “Get over it” poster campaign on London buses?
Religious dress in prisons and detention centres
We noted that the Home Office had amended the Detention Services Order dealing with search procedures at detention centres in order to allow Sikh legal advisers to retain their kirpans provided they are properly secured. Continue reading →
Reflections on a week in which the Lords debated assisted dying and chancel repairs, the C of E published a “programme for reform and renewal”, SCOTUS decided to hear argument on same-sex marriage – and a court took pity on a cleric faced with disqualification from driving…
Reform and renewal in the C of E
On 12 January, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote to members of the Church of England’s General Synod proposing a “programme for reform and renewal” for the church, outlined in their statement “In Each Generation”: A programme for reform and renewal. This preceded the publication of a series of documents proposing reforms to be published on the Church’s website this week ahead of the meeting of the General Synod, 10 to 12 February.
Due to the range and volume of material being issued in relation to the various Task Group reports, there was a daily release of key documents this week ahead of the general distribution of papers on Friday 16 January. These have included: Continue reading →
So that’s the carols and mince pies over for another year, then. Back to work…
… but not before tonight’s Epiphany Carol services, when some choirs will take the opportunity to dust off the Crotch – Lo, Star-Led Chiefs, Assyrian Odours Bring – a sort of Pirates of Penzance meets Messiah. For some, the Christmas season extends until Candlemas; but now that The Low Churchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass has ceased its regular postings we will no longer be reminded of the evils of “prolix ritual and ostentatious ceremonial”.
Abortion, blasphemy and the Constitution of Ireland
The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales by s 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. In Ireland, however, Article 40.6.1°.i of the Constitution [Bunreacht na hÉireann] declares that
“The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law”.
In 1999 the common law offence of blasphemous libel was ruled to be incompatible with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious equality; but after a hiatus a new offence of “publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” was created by the Defamation Act 2009. The argument advanced by the FiannaFáil Government was that it was necessary to have such an offence in order to fulfil the terms of Article 40.6.1°.i. To describe this as controversial would be a major understatement; and after the last general election, the incoming Fine Gael–Labour Coalition’s programme promised a Constitutional Convention to draft a range of reforms, including “Removing blasphemy from the Constitution”. Continue reading →
In December the Supreme Court ruled on Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board’s appeal against the judgment of the Inner House in Doogan & Anor v NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board ScotCS CSIH 36. The Inner House had overturned the decision of the Lord Ordinary [Lady Smith], who had refused the petition of Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, labour-ward coordinators at the Glasgow Southern General Hospital, for judicial review of the dismissal of their conscientious objection to supervising staff involved in abortions. In the Inner House, Lady Dorrian had justified a wide interpretation of the conscientious opt-out in section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 because
“it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant … [I]t is a matter on which many people have strong moral and religious convictions, and the right of conscientious objection is given out of respect for those convictions and not for any other reason” [para 38].