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: Continue reading

Same-sex marriage for Church of Scotland ministers? – not just yet

Following its vote last Saturday to allow the ordination/induction/appointment of ministers and deacons in civil partnerships, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has now taken the first step to extend that permission to ministers in same-sex marriages.

The final decision has been deferred until its presbyteries have been consulted under the Barrier Act. Presbyteries will now debate the matter and return their votes by the end of this year. This means that congregations may now opt out of [“depart from”] traditional church teaching on marriage and call a minister or deacon in a civil partnership, but they will not be able to call a minister in a same-sex marriage until the final vote has been taken. Special provisions were agreed that protect any minister or deacon ordained before 31 May 2009 who is now in a same-sex marriage, in the following terms: Continue reading

Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Ors – an analysis

Yesterday I posted a fairly brief summary of the Ashers Bakery case from media reports. Following is a more considered analysis based on the judgment itself.

The facts

The plaintiff, Gareth Lee, was a gay man associated with QueerSpace, an organisation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Northern Ireland. To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in May 2014 he ordered a cake from Ashers Bakery bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and a picture of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He had previously bought things at the same branch of Ashers and had become aware from a leaflet that he could have a cake iced with a graphic of his own design [7]. Ashers initially accepted his order but the third defendant, Mrs Karen McArthur, subsequently telephoned him to say that his order could not be fulfilled because Ashers was “a Christian business and, in hindsight, she should not have taken the order”: she apologised and refunded his money [9].

In Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Anor [2015] NICty 2 Mr Lee claimed before Belfast County Court that he had been discriminated against contrary to the provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and/or the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 [1]. Continue reading

(Not) supporting gay marriage at the cake counter: Lee v Ashers Bakery

What follows was based solely on news reports. A formal case-note based on the judgment itself is now available here: Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Ors – an analysis.

Regular readers will no doubt recall that the proprietors of Ashers Bakery refused to bake a cake for Gareth Lee bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” with the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He had ordered the cake for an event to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in May 2014 and Ashers initially accepted his order but later cancelled it and returned his money. Subsequently, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland supported legal action against the bakery for alleged discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and (possibly) on grounds of political opinion – and drew a sharp public rebuke from the First Minister, Peter Robinson MLA, for doing so.

The case was heard at Belfast County Court by District Judge Brownlie in April and in her reserved judgment handed down today she found that the defendants had discriminated unlawfully against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation. Mr Lee was awarded £500 damages (plus, presumably, costs).

Continue reading

Northern Ireland Assembly rejects same-sex marriage again

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.”

The motion was defeated by 49 votes to 47.  Continue reading

The “Marriage Pledge” – Irish style

Update on developments in the US

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

Religion and Law round-up – 22nd February

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 quoted Conservative 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