ON the day that MPs voted against an amendment to the Equality Act as a sop to bigots who disagree with allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Daily Telegraph carried a letter warning that thousands of young Christians who believe in traditional marriage will think twice before taking public sector jobs.
A gang of 17 ministers and one archbishop expressed their concern about the consequences if the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is passed in its current state.
The letter said:
If the Bill passes into law without much clearer protections for freedom of speech and freedom of belief, teachers and public-sector workers will have to choose between their conscience and their career, as many will be deterred from a public-service career or from charity involvement.
The church leaders said there are 150,000 in their combined congregations, 50,000 of whom are aged between 13 and 30.
For many in this rising generation, marriage is the union of sexual opposites, and the thread that binds generations.
The letter was signed by The Rt Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, Revd Vaughan Roberts rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford, and Revd John Stevens the National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches among others.
The Bill will cause “pain for many, without tackling prejudice against the few”, the letter said.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that MPs voted 339 votes to 148 to reject the amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to include a person’s “conscientious beliefs” about the definition of marriage as a protected characteristic. Current protected characteristics include age, race, disability, gender reassignment and sexuality.
The amendment was tabled by David Burrowes and defended today by Conservative MP Edward Leigh, a staunch equal marriage opponent, who represents Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. He remains unconvinced by the government’s position on religious safeguards and claims pending legislation offers no security to people opposed to the change.
Leigh said today that the amendment was necessary because:
When there is a clash between gay rights and religious freedom, gay rights, I’m afraid, in our case law, comes first.
His argument was opposed by MP Chris Bryant, who pointed out that no other religious beliefs – such as believing in transubstantiation or the virgin birth – are protected characteristics.
Leigh told the Commons:
They are entitled to protection not just in their churches, they are entitled to protection in the workplace, on Facebook, at home and when they are teaching in the classroom. They are entitled to speak about their beliefs on merit.