LONDON – Clergymen across the United Kingdom have been left highly concerned by a European Union report which has recommended that clergy not be allowed a right of conscientious objection to conducting gay weddings if the Parliament decides to enact legislation permitting same sex marriages.
The EU ruling states that the rights of access to abortion, euthanasia, birth control and marriage trump the right of conscience to opt out of conducting gay weddings, reported The Church of England Newspaper.
The highly controversial report by the EU’s Network of Independent Experts on Human Rights said that where "euthanasia or assisted suicide are partially decriminalized, the right to religious conscientious objection, while it should be recognized to the medical doctors asked to perform euthanasia or to assist a person in committing suicide, should not be exercised in a way which leads to depriving any person from the possibility of exercising effectively his or her rights as guaranteed under the applicable legislation."
The report also stated that the "right of access" should take precedence over the right for clergy or registrars to object to solemnizing gay weddings, where the law permitted them.
The authors of the report referred to a case in the Netherlands in which a registrar was fired after refusing to solemnize the wedding of a same-sex couple despite the fact that other registrars were available who were willing to conduct the ceremony.
The Panel that made the ruling argued: "The right to religious conscientious objection may be invoked by an officer refusing to celebrate a marriage between two persons of the same sex or where one of the prospective spouses is a transsexual."
It added, however, that "it would be unacceptable to allow this to result in marriage being unavailable to the couple concerned: any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (as would result from the refusal to celebrate a marriage between two persons of the same sex where this institution is recognized), and any violation of the right to marry of transsexuals, should not be tolerated, and the public authorities should ensure in such circumstances that other officers will be available and willing to celebrate those unions."
In the United Kingdom, doctors and nurses currently have the right under law to refuse to participate in abortions, while the Education Reform Act of 1988 gives parents the right to withdraw their children from worship at state-supported schools.
Clergy of the Church of England also have the right under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to refuse to solemnize a wedding "if it is reasonably believed that the person’s gender has become the acquired gender under the Act."
If Parliament decides to legalize same-sex weddings, clergy will, under the recommendations of the EU report, be forced to place the right of access to marriage of gay couples above their own moral convictions on the sanctity of the marriage.