Response from the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

From: Nicola Barker On Behalf Of Trevor Phillips
Sent: 20 March 2012 11:39
To: DAVIES, David
Subject: RE: Equal Civil Marriage


Dear David 

Many thanks for your thoughtful question on this issue.

As you know the Commission's actions in the so-called "bed-and-breakfast" case were taken in order to enforce the existing anti-discrimination laws passed by Parliament, in line with our legal mandate. The debate which is taking place now is about a consultation launched by government Ministers, to inform any future legislative proposals they may make to Parliament, so any answer at this stage would be entirely hypothetical.

However I would not wish to avoid your underlying question of principle.  As I understand what Ministers have said so far, the government believes that no proposals in its consultation paper could ever lead to a religious body or any of its officials being forced into conducting marriage ceremonies they did not wish to conduct; and indeed, under Ministers' proposals it would remain illegal for same-sex couples to be married on religious premises according to religious rites. As regards religious freedom, the Commission would, of course always adhere to the precepts of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

More generally, I cannot imagine any circumstances in which, as Chair of the Commission,  I would recommend  that our Board support a legal challenge of the type you suggest. You may be aware that I recently stated that public law should stop "at the door of the temple" by which I mean that nothing in public law should be seen to dictate religious doctrine; I think that this is the principle that would apply here. 

All that said, I am happy to ask my expert colleagues here to look at the government's proposals in more detail, and if we have anything to add that might help you in your difficult decision I will certainly write to you again.

Yours sincerely

Trevor Phillips

Chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission