After several attempts to amend the marriage equality bill by the House of Lords, Lord Geoffrey Dear’s new proposals were eliminated last night for the third time. The 75-year-old equality critic has persistently vowed to re-introduce more measures in order to “protect belief in traditional marriage.”
“I feel that we have already heard that the Equality Act has been shot through a number of times as being inadequate. A number of cases have been cited. Clearly, the freedoms it set out to offer have not always been available,” Lord Dear said at the Upper Chamber on June 17.
“We have heard of a number of cases in your Lordships’ House tonight where people have expressed a view and been sued for it. I do not in that sense move away altogether from the point I am trying to make. There are people out there who are now very concerned about opening their mouths and saying anything at all, for fear of being dubbed homophobic.”
For the second reading of the bill, Lord Dear faced defeat as the House of Lords voted 390 to 149 for marriage equality. Lord Dear drew criticism for his new proposals, as his supposed “freedom of speech” bill was called “damaging.”
“The amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, provide an opportunity for me again to make clear what is allowed under the law in terms of belief and expression of belief,” Women and Equality in the Lords spokesperson Baroness Tina Stowell told Lord Dear during the hearing.
“I do not accept his argument that the law deals only with conduct and not with freedom of speech, because it explicitly does. People are clearly able to express themselves, to hold religious beliefs and express those beliefs, and to do so freely. Nothing in the bill restricts anyone’s right to express a view on marriage or anything else.”
Labour’s Shadow Equalities Minister in the Lords Baroness Glenys Thornton also added a statement regarding to Lord Dear’s proposals.
“Our view is that the equality legislation – and freedom of thought, speech and belief protected by that legislation – covers these points. I can see why the noble Lord may wish to probe that, and I am sure that the Minister has more than adequate answers to it, but we do not think that the amendments are necessary.”
In a response to a Pink News reader’s comments, Lord Dear reacted to his legislation being described as “homophobic.”
“The amendments that I have seen are neither silly nor spiteful – they are honest attempts to try to address matters that a better and deeper considered bill would have considered,” Lord Dear stated.
“In particular, most are intended to provide some protection for those who fear disadvantage if the bill passes into law in its present form. That, as much as anything, is what equality is really about. Your conclusions as to homophobia are unfair, inaccurate and demonstrate, if I may say so, a massive lack of appreciation of most of the elements in play in this issue.”
Before his amendments were rejected in the second hearing, Lord Dear said that “children will act out gay weddings in class” if marriage equality is passed.
The equality debate continues today.