London Mayor Ken Livingstone has warned the London Borough of Bromley that its decision to refuse ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples who register under the new Civil Partnerships Act, which comes into force in December 2005, is potentially unlawful. The Mayor says that if Bromley does not reverse its decision he will consider challenging them in the courts.
In a letter to the Leader of the Council, Stephen Carr, the Mayor writes:
‘I have taken legal advice on Bromley Council’s position and I am assured that a refusal to permit a ceremony or celebration by a same sex couple of their civil partnership could be successfully challenged in the courts as unlawful discrimination and an infringement of the Human Rights Act 1998.
‘By refusing to offer gay people the opportunity to have a ceremony – that is automatically offered to heterosexual couples – to mark the registration of their partnership, the Council is unlawfully discriminating. There are no justifiable reasons for the difference in treatment between same sex and heterosexual couples. To date the reasons given by the Bromley for denying same sex couple s the right to celebrate the civil partnership – that there is a lack of demand and that ‘traditional marriage’ must be encouraged – are illogical and discriminatory.’
The Civil Partnerships Act does not impose an explicit requirement on councils to allow ceremonies to take place. However, Department of Trade and Industry guidance encourages gay people to have ceremonies as part of their registration. The Mayor instructed lawyers to look into the possibility of supporting a legal challenge after Bromley residents reported the Council’s position.
The Mayor has previously written to Michael Howard, the Leader of the Opposition, asking him to intervene. But Michael Howard refused.
According to the Bromley News Shopper (7 June 2005), Council Leader Stephen Carr said: ‘They shouldn’t be seen as equal. Gay marriage undermines our society and family values.’ The same article also reported that Councillor Colin Bloom said: ‘Gay marriages are immoral and undermine family values in society.’ And current mayor, Councillor Joan Wykes is reported to have said: ‘Marriage is about procreation and contributing to society. However, with same-sex partnerships, this doesn’t contribute to anything apart from trying to get what perks they can.’
In his letter to Bromley, the Mayor says: ‘The Council is out of step with the vast majority of London Boroughs, which are already making preparations for these ceremonies, and Londoners who value and celebrate the capital’s reputation for diversity and tolerance.
‘I believe that Bromley Council’s decision to discriminate against same sex couples is discriminatory and may be unlawful; I would therefore urge Bromley Council to reconsider this decision immediately.’