15/12/2011 08:28 GMT | Updated 15/12/2011 08:49 GMT

Move To Block Civil Partnerships In Churches Dropped After Being Rubbished By A Bishop

An attempt to block civil partnerships in churches by a Conservative peer has been blocked - after the Lady responsible withdrew her own amendment.

Introducing the motion, Baroness O'Cathain said current laws could force Churches to hold civil partnerships and "put religious freedom in jeopardy".

The self-described "reluctant rebel" said the vote was a matter of conscience as the law "could result on legal pressures on churches that do not want to hold civil partnerships.

But her claim was rubbished by peers, including Labour's Lord Alli, who tabled the original amendment allowing the change.

He said it was part of a "heady cocktail" of increasing prejudice against homosexuals.

"I think it happens because first you take a spurious argument. You dress it up in legal language. You get a senior QC or two to write a lot about very little. Then you throw in a very large dose of prejudice.

"Finally you add that secret ingredient: fear. Fear that people will be coerced into acting against their conscience."

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer also denied the law would force places of worship to hold civil partnerships.

And the Bishop of Oxford said he had received legal advice showing that the Church was protected, adding: "It is not clear to me that there is in anything in these regulations that needs to be changed."

Baroness O'Cathain denied she had any "hidden agenda" or wanted to vote against civil partnerships, but withdrew the move due to lack of support.

Speaking after the debate ended Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone said: “A number of faiths have made it very clear to me and others that they want to allow same-sex couples to have their civil partnership ceremony in their places of worships.

“As a Liberal Democrat, I strongly believe that we should make this possible and that is why the coalition government is doing the right thing in allowing these faiths to celebrate the love that two people have for each other.

“From the outset, we made it clear that we would not force any faith to do so and the House of Lords have today recognised that there are appropriate safeguards.

“I look forward to working equally constructively with all interested people and organisations as we move ahead with the coalition government’s plan to open up marriage to same-sex couples. Our commitment to equality runs deep, as next year’s consultation on equal marriage will show.”