Mike Weatherly, an MP in Brighton has written that, "As long as religious groups can refuse to preside over ceremonies for same-sex couples, there will be inequality. Such behaviour is not tolerated in other areas, such as adoption, after all. "
Whilst I can see that the letter will express the frustration of many LGB&T people who are being snubbed by churches, the letter will probably do more harm than good.
The UK Government has been consulting for some time on changes to the Civil Partnership laws that would allow CP's in religious buildings. One of the arguments that conservative Christians have used against this progression is that such a change would ultimately allow legal challenges to force churches to conduct CP's.
This was expressed most recently by Lyndon Bowring, Associate Minister at Kensington Temple and Executive Chairman of CARE, in 'Sorted' - a Christian magazine formen. It is a measured and conciliatory article in which he describes attending a Civil Partnership ceremony and encourages Christians to "do all we can to be compassionate and generous in all our relationships and not condemn or reject people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or lifestyle."
But he also warns of the dangers of changes to the law which might, in time, be used to force churches to act against their conscience.
"A minister who refused to allow [a Civil Partnership] might be taken to court for discriminating against a same-sex couple... We hope that the courts would uphold the churches' position but... as we have seen, they have the power to rule differently from what the politicians intended. The Government says it has no intention of compelling churches that do not want to host Civil Partnership ceremonies to do so, but just one successful case could set a legal precedent."For some in the church this is clearly a genuine fear, and Mr Weatherley's letter will do nothing to reassure them. Others have used this fear as an axe to grind against Civil Partnerships, and the letter plays right into their hands as they seek to spread fear and mistrust.
Fundamentally however, his letter goes to the heart of the debate about balancing human rights and religious freedom. This has been hotly contested in recent years, and is a continual source of energy and press coverage for religious groups who are rigidly opposed to same-sex relationships.
There has to be a balance between the rights rightly given as we progress towards equality for all, and the right of people of faith to follow their religion, where that does not cause harm to others.
The idea of compelling churches to act against their understanding of their faith in these circumstances is unjust, counterproductive and flawed.
What is really required is the continual task of working within the Church towards a new understanding of sexuality which will result in same-sex couples being welcomed and embraced by church communities, not churches being forced into a begrudging and resentful obligation.