Gay Weddings To Be Allowed In Church

(Independent) – GAY MEN AND WOMEN will finally be allowed to marry in churches after the House of Lords dramatically voted in favour of lifting the ban on religious premises holding same-sex partnerships.

The amendment to the Equality Bill, which was tabled as a free vote by gay Muslim peer Waheed Alli, received overwhelming backing in the Lords, including from a number of prominent Anglican bishops.

Under current UK law religious venues are forbidden from holding civil partnerships, although some liberal denominations within Christianity and Judaism have been willing to bless gay unions once a partnership ceremony has taken place elsewhere.

The lifting of the ban, which still needs to be approved by the House of Commons, will now give religious venues the option of conducting civil partnerships – but it will not compel them to do so, as some traditionalists had feared.

Lord Alli denied the suggestion that religious communities would be forced to accept gay marriages.

“Religious freedom cannot begin and end with what one religion wants,” he said. “This amendment does not place an obligation on any religious organisation to host civil partnerships in their buildings. But there are many gay and lesbian couples who want to share their civil partnership with the congregations that they worship with. And there are a number of religious organisations that want to allow gay and lesbian couples to do exactly that.”

Gay rights activists and members of churches that have pushed for a lifting of the ban hailed the Lords’ decision as victory for equal rights and religious expression.

But the amendment has caused consternation among religious figures who are opposed to homosexuality and fear that they could eventually face costly legal battles if they sacked or disciplined clergy who ignored their own prohibitions on gay marriage.

The vote came just hours before the last remaining Catholic adoption agency went to the High Court to try and force the government to allow it to continue refusing to place adoptees with homosexual foster parents.

Since 2005 adoption agencies have been compelled to consider gay applicants with the result that all but one of Britain’s Catholic adoption agencies have either shut down or had to disassociate themselves from the Catholic Church.

Dr Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs for the Evangelical Alliance, said he feared a similar thing could happen to churches that continued to refused to offer gay ceremonies.

“We don’t want to see in a few years’ time churches ending up in the same boat, where they are forced to comply with anti-discrimination law or close down,” he said.

For the Church of England the amendment is equally problematic. Although a small number of Anglican clergy will inevitably consider holding civil partnerships in their churches, they would still be technically forbidden from doing so under the Church of England’s canon law which can only be changed by the General Synod or the House of Bishops.

Gay marriages in churches will not happen immediately because the amendment must still be approved by the House of Commons. MPs are unlikely to oppose it because the vote was so overwhelming in the Lords. But with a general election and change of parliament coming up it could be months before the Commons actually gets round to debating the ban.

The amendment is a major victory for religious groups who have no theological problems with the idea of marrying gays in their religious venues.

Three religious communities – the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Liberal Judaism and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches – have already said that they wish to hold legally recognised same-sex partnerships. Some liberal clergy within Methodist, Baptist and Anglican denominations could also conceivably open their doors to gay weddings.

Many religious gay campaigners hope that the lifting of the ban will eventually lead to gay couples being allowed to use the word “marriage”, rather than civil partnerships.

The liberal Christian think-tank Ekklesia yesterday called on the government to entirely overhaul Britain’s marriage laws and separate the legal process of registration from religious ceremonies. Many believe such a step would allow both objectors to gay marriage and supporters to find a way of expressing their beliefs freely and openly within British law.

“An overhaul of marriage law is urgently required to respond to the diversity of beliefs and relationships in a plural society,” said co-director Symon Hill. “It is time for a legal change that allows people to enter into marriages or partnerships as a public, communal, and if important to them, a religious commitment, with legal registration being a separate process.”

Quakers are most likely to start conducting civil partnerships in their churches as soon as the ban is legally lifted. Last year they took the unprecedented step of announcing that they wanted to give gay couples full marriage ceremonies. The move was significant because, like rabbis and Church of England priests, Quaker registrars are allowed to marry people on behalf of the state.

Chris Campbell, a Quaker who is in a long term relationship with a Roman Catholic, told The Independent that many gay Christians want to see the day when they can have a civil partnership in their church.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of going to a civil registrar: it’s not what marriage is about for us,” he said. “It’s a solemn and binding commitment in the presence of God. Without some recognition of that religious element, it certainly put me off the idea of getting married.”

He believes many churches will be able to improve their image once they are no longer banned from holding civil ceremonies. “There are not one but two causes for celebration,” he said. “Not only are people in same-sex relationships closer than ever before to having their love recognised in the same way as any other committed Christian couple, but it’s also a triumph for the image of the church. Some people now see the Church as being out-of-touch, but this amendment demonstrates otherwise: it gives Churches the right to hold civil partnerships on their premises if they choose. They’ll finally have the choice to act on the conclusions they’ve come to after their own prayerful discussions, and that’s got to be a good thing.”

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‘It’s not the middle classes but social engineering zealots like Ms Harman who are to blame for Britain’s inequality gap’

(Max Hastings) – AFTER 62 YEARS of the welfare state and 13 of New Labour, Britain is becoming a less equal society.

The Government’s National Equality Panel reported this week that the gap between rich and poor has widened since 1970.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman immediately took to Radio 4 to assert that ‘persistent inequality of social class perpetuates disadvantage’.

The Government proposes to attack this by placing a new legal burden upon public bodies ‘to address socio-economic equality’.

It is fascinating to speculate about her meaning. Will travellers be represented on the board of Railtrack?

Should sink estate dwellers have a statutory voice on the BBC Trust?

Ms Harman is a boundlessly foolish woman, so it would be rash to rule out any extravagance.

Class, not patriotism, is the last resort of political scoundrels. Labour, on the ropes electorally, is playing the card for all it believes it to be worth.

Between now and polling day, we shall hear much more about alleged social discrimination, the shocking advantages the rich somehow steal from the poor.

The tragedy is that Harman and her kind are pursuing cheap tactical advantage amid one of the horror stories of our time.

The National Equality Panel is a silly name for a meretricious quango.

We do not need its report to show that the bottom section of British society, the underclass, lead miserable lives from which their children have pathetically little chance of escape.

It is heartbreaking to see mid-teen mothers in supermarkets, clusters of idle kids on city street corners, knowing they are probably doomed to join Britain’s one-in-six workless households and the dependency culture.

But Ms Harman’s resentment focuses upon the haves; the people who earn large incomes, rear their children in comfort and, above all, educate them privately.

Harmanism has launched Labour stalwart Dame Suzi Leather, chairman of the Charities Commission, on her war against independent schools.

Harmanism is reflected in a thousand Government initiatives to fight alleged unfair disadvantage – one of them revealed this week by the Norfolk Jobcentre, which rejected an advertisement specifying that applicants should be ‘reliable’ workers.

This, asserted the Jobcentre, discriminated against unreliable workers.

The recruitment agency placing the ad had to fight to be allowed to request an English speaker, lest this disadvantage non-English speakers.

Harmanism seeks to attack every cause of unemployability save the most obvious: the catastrophic failure of the state education system.

Professor John Hills, a member of the National Equality Panel, said yesterday: ‘The challenge our report puts down to all political parties is: how do you create a level playing field when there are such large differences between the resources that different people have available to them?’

Just so. But a host of social surveys show that 40 years ago more of the children of the poor escaped from their environment, through the grammar school system and a far more rigorous teaching and exam culture, than do their successors today.

Shirley Williams and Anthony Crosland, education ministers under Harold Wilson and Harriet Harman’s spiritual forebears, deliberately destroyed the grammar schools.

It has taken half a century for the damage inflicted on social mobility by their ‘level playing-field’ policies to be fully understood.

A new pamphlet for the Civitas think-tank by former university teacher David Conway analyses the decline in Britain of ‘liberal education’.

The Victorians proudly called it ‘liberal’ because its purpose, through subject based teaching, was to liberate children from ignorance.

They promoted the classics, science and literature not merely to cram facts but to broaden horizons, teach children to think and to reach conclusions on the basis of evidence.

In 1919, the Oxford historian H.A.L. Fisher declared: ‘The business of a university is not to equip students for professional posts, but to train them in disinterested intellectual habits, to give them a vision of what real learning is, to refine taste, to form judgment, to enlarge curiosity and to substitute for a low and material outlook on life a lofty view of its resources and demands.’

How many universities today still cherish such noble objectives?

Even at Oxbridge, thanks to the Harmanites’ insistence on admitting quotas of state school pupils heedless of attainment, most students now spend their first year being taught to write essays.

First-class honours are distributed like popcorn, to one in five graduates.

I occasionally talk to Eton sixth-formers. It is painful to perceive the contrast between their literacy, curiosity and capacity for self-expression and the limp, passive, inarticulate students one often meets at universities.

The Etonians are supremely privileged young men.

But the old grammar schools also possessed some great teachers who produced remarkable pupils, to which Alan Bennett’s enchanting play and film The History Boys bear witness.

Today, and admittedly in part because of the Tories’ 1988 Education Act, we have a schools system which denies the brightest their chance to excel, and merely teaches millions the minimum necessary to pass innumerable tests.

Where are the vaulting ideals of Matthew Arnold, the great Victorian educationist, who asserted in 1873 that the true purpose of schooling was ‘to provide children with knowledge of human capability and achievement and the workings of nature’?

If the Tories gain power later this year, one of their biggest problems will be to overcome the Harmanism of the mighty educational establishment.

One of its standard-bearers, John White, of London’s Institute of Education, argued in a 2007 lecture: ‘The academic, subject-based curriculum is a middle-class creation – whose effect, if not intention, has been to make it difficult for many children not from a middle-class background to adjust to a highly academic school culture.’

Likewise, Martin Johnson, head of education policy for the Association Of Teachers And Lecturers, said: ‘Most people are not intellectuals and do not live their lives predominantly in the abstract.’

He attacks conventional teaching ‘because mass education systems developed in the 20th century copied the curriculum considered necessary for social elites: leisured classes who could afford and valued such attitudes’.

Though Messrs White and Johnson would never admit it, their view is rooted in fantastic condescension: teach the underclass what little it is capable of learning, and leave higher things like science to the rich b******s whose parents pay fees.

Civitas’s David Conway argues: ‘Unless the provision of liberal education is once again made the central purpose of state schools, it will increasingly become the exclusive preserve of the few privileged enough to attend independent schools. That is not the way of social progress.’

It would be naive not to recognise the near-unteachability of the most disadvantaged of our children.

But there are many, many more who have the brains and energy and supportive parents to propel themselves upwards in society – if only their schools give them the chance.

We need fewer bog-standard tests and more exams that mean something; teachers committed to competition and enabling clever children of all classes to fulfil their potential.

Yet Harmanism is about levelling down, stuffing the middle classes.

Oh yes, and with the dollop of hypocrisy that allowed the minister (herself educated at the famously elitist St Paul’s Girls’ School) to choose a grammar school outside her constituency for her children.

It is no longer a class divide which disadvantages Britain’s poor. Nobody is denied a job or promotion because they don’t speak proper or hold a knife and fork right.

The educational chasm is the one that matters, and Labour’s social engineers bear an overriding responsibility for it.

Until state schools revive the cult of excellence, until teachers are obliged to teach and pupils to learn, the underclass will indeed remain tragic victims – of Harmanism, not social discrimination.

Jon Gaunt Seeks Judicial Review Over Nazi Jibe

(Press Gazette) – A RADIO PRESENTER sacked after calling a Conservative councillor a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” live on air has launched a High Court action today over his right to free speech.

Sun columnist Jon Gaunt, who made the comments on his Talksport radio show in November 2008, is seeking to challenge a decision by Ofcom that upheld complaints against him under the Broadcasting Code.

The case arises out of an interview by Gaunt with councillor Michael Stark about Redbridge Council’s decision to ban smokers from becoming foster parents.

Stark defended the decision on the grounds that the welfare of young children should be put ahead of the needs of foster families.

But Gaunt, who was in care as a child, accused his interviewee of being a “Nazi” and an “ignorant pig” and also a “health Nazi”, arguing that children in care would be deprived of the chance of finding a foster home under the new policy.

At the end of the show, Gaunt made an on-air apology to his guest but was then suspended pending an investigation. Talksport later announced that it had terminated his contract.

Gaunt is seeking a judicial review claiming his fundamental right to free speech and to criticise a professional politician has been infringed by Ofcom’s findings.

His lawyers describe the case as “ground breaking”, saying it will be the “first time that a known media personality has brought a direct legal challenge against Ofcom for stifling his rights to free speech during a live broadcast”.

In a statement, Gaunt said: “The right of every British citizen to speak his or her mind, free of the fear of sanction from faceless government-appointed bureaucrats is a right that we must all protect and preserve.

“It cannot be right that in this century, after generations of Britons gave their lives to preserve free speech, that a radio commentator is still not able to express his views about a professional politician without those words being subject to the approval and vetting of an unelected group of men and women in the Ofcom building.

“If I lose my case today, then it will be a sad day for our society.

“It means that no matter how poor our politicians are, they can expect Ofcom to protect them from the scrutiny and the words used by any radio or TV presenter.”

His solicitor, Martin Howe, said: “This is a constitutionally important case. Freedom of the press and media is axiomatic to modern democracy, and Britain proudly boasts the longest standing democracy in the Western world.

“With an election looming and with our political leaders going head to head with presenters, it is crucial that the media has a free rein to test and probe without looking over its shoulder to the bureaucrats at Ofcom.

“Freedom of speech is at the heart of Britain. Britain without free speech would be akin to Britain without cricket and the Archers. It runs in our veins. It defines us.”

Human Rights group Liberty intervened in the case because of its wider importance to free speech.

Director Shami Chakrabarti said that Gaunt’s job “is fierce debate” on the radio, adding: “People fought the real Nazis so that we could enjoy our freedoms; the Human Rights Act is there to protect us from the speech police.”

… (Telegraph,  27/01/2010) – Radio presenter sacked for calling councillor Nazi granted High Court challenge

4.5M On Housing Waiting List Could Rise To 5.75M If Promised Spending Is Cut

(Guardian) – THE GOVERNMENT will struggle to build even half of its target of a million affordable homes by 2020 if the housing budget is not exempted from public spending cuts, a housing campaign group says.

If the cuts to the house-building budget suggested by November’s pre-­budget report go ahead, the number of affordable homes built by 2020 will be 444,000, says the National Housing Federation.

The NHF is calling on Gordon Brown to make the house-building budget “untouchable” and give it the same status as hospitals, schooling and policing, areas the government said in November they would ring-fence while they trimmed back in other areas.

In a recent interview the housing minister, John Healey, refused to rule out cuts.

Housing is a pressing political issue with 4.5 million people on waiting lists for affordable housing, and the issue is seen as a driving factor in the alienation of those on lower incomes – exacerbated during the economic downturn – and as a recruiting ground for far-right parties.

In 2007 Brown pledged to meet the demand by building 3m houses by 2020 of which a million would be affordable, but at the moment the NHF predicts that only 162,000 of that million-mark target will have been built by 2011. If the budget is further hacked back, the number of new affordable homes will fall by 556,000 and the government could take a further 18 years to build the million.

The effect could be a further 1.25 million people joining the waiting lists.

The NHF has used the figure provided by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which has estimated cuts of 17.98% for unprotected government departments.

Alongside diminished resources for house building, cuts of 17.98% over the next 10 years will also lead to 278,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the construction industry either being lost or not created.

The near-18% budget cut becomes proportionally a much bigger reduction in house building because the sector is resigned to losing billions of pounds worth of extra public investment over the next decade; funds anticipated by the government when it set out its 2020 housing targets.

Within the government’s targets, about 280,000 homes should be built over the next three government-spending periods, but if the 17.98% budget cut is applied to housing only 99,000 affordable homes will be built between 2011/12 to 2013/14, and if the same cut is applied between 2014/15 to 2016/17 only 91,000 would be built. If maintained at the new low level, between 2017/18 to 2019/20 only 93,000 would be delivered.

The NHF warned that the poorest communities would be the hardest hit by the proposed cuts to housing, as bad living conditions were closely linked with poor health and educational attainment and higher crime rates.

The group’s chief executive, David Orr, said: “Ministers should give funding for the house-building programme the same untouchable status as health, education and policing – and protect it from the coming savage cuts.”

Binge Drinking Violence Creating ‘No Go Areas’

(Independent) – BOOZE-FUELLED VIOLENCE is creating “no-go areas” across England and Wales, a Government-funded poll revealed today.

One person in every four said they avoided parts of their local area because of crime and disorder linked to alcohol abuse.

The results of the study were released as the Government confirmed measures aimed at tackling alcohol misuse will come into force before the General Election.

Speed drinking games, volume drinks promotions and pouring alcohol directly into drinkers’ mouths will be banned from April, Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced.

The Tories also laid out their plans to tackle problem drinking with a pledge to “take back” town centres and roll back so-called “24-hour drinking”.

Alcopops and super-strength beer and cider would face higher levies, they said, and bars and clubs wanting late night licences would be hit with a tax to pay for policing.

The poll revealed widespread support for a ban on drinks promotions in supermarkets and off licences in problem areas.

Half of those questioned said bulk buy and other offers should be prohibited where disorder is rife.

Ministers have dropped plans to allow councils to ban happy hours in pubs and bulk offers from alcohol retailers in problem zones.

Mr Grayling said: “It’s time we took back control of our town and city centres on a Friday and Saturday night, and turned them back into places where people can have a good night out without the fear of being caught up in a culture of binge drinking and anti-social behaviour,” he said.

“We need to scrap the Government’s late-night licensing regime, give local people back powers over the number of licensed premises in their areas, and introduce charges for late-night licences to pay for better policing.

“We can’t go on with the binge-drinking culture that has built up under Labour.”

Mr Johnson said the ban on games, and measures to force pubs to provide tap water for free would come into force in April and help deal with “irresponsible” retailers.

From October, bars will be forced to offer smaller drink sizes, he said.

The poll, carried out by Ipsos-Mori, revealed widespread ignorance of rules that allow bars to offer spirits in either 25ml or 35ml measures.

More than half of those questioned (52%) said they thought a single measure was the same everywhere.

Mr Johnson said: “Alcohol-related crime costs the UK billions of pounds every year and while the vast majority of retailers are responsible, a minority continue to run irresponsible promotions which fuel the excessive drinking that leads to alcohol-related crime and disorder.

“These practices have a real impact on society, not to mention the lives of those who just want to enjoy a good night out.

“The Government and the industry have a duty to act, this mandatory code will allow us to take action against an issue which affects us all.”

The British Beer and Pub Association said the measures were unbalanced because they did not target drinks sold through supermarkets.

Concerns have been raised about drinkers “pre-loading” with booze before going on a night out.

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said 70% of alcohol is sold through supermarkets.

She said: “We have consistently supported legislation to crack down on irresponsible promotions in pubs and supermarkets.

“However, with nearly 70% of all alcohol now sold through supermarkets, the pub-centric measures announced today are lopsided and unbalanced.

“Pubs are struggling and the country is in recession. This is not the time for the Home Office to be burying business in yet more unnecessary red tape.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: “Booze Britain is ruining lives and costing the country billions, but Labour has not only failed to tackle alcohol misuse, it has allowed an epidemic of drink-fuelled crime and illness to take hold.

“Now the Government is ignoring its own expensive advice and experts, who say the best way to reduce alcohol misuse is to stop booze being sold at pocket money prices.”

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said the Government’s move was “a welcome direction of travel” but argued that minimum unit prices for alcohol would be more effective in cutting problem drinking.

The new rules amounted to an admission that voluntary codes for the drinks industry had failed, he told the BBC.

Setting a minimum price for booze would be more effective, he said.

“Minimum unit pricing is very attractive because it doesn’t affect the price of a pint in a pub or a glass of wine in a restaurant but it does target the heavy drinkers and the under-age drinkers who target the cheapest drinks.”

* Ipsos Mori questioned 1,710 people in England and Wales in July last year.

Parents Struggling To Make Ends Meet

(Independent) – NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF FAMILIES with children need both parents to work just to make ends meet, research showed today.

Around 60 per cent of households with children are reliant on having two salaries in order to pay their bills, according to insurer Scottish Widows.

The figure is nearly twice the 36 per cent of families that do not have dependent children that are reliant on two salaries.

Families with children are also accruing increasing levels of debt as they struggle to make ends meet.

The average household with dependent children owes £8,653 in short-term debt, such as credit cards and loans, compared with £7,003 for households without children.

Families with children also typically have higher mortgages, with an average of £91,648 still outstanding on their home loan, £3,000 more than when the same research was carried out a year earlier.

By contrast, families without children had paid down their mortgage by around £4,000 during the previous 12 months, to leave them owing an average of £77,500.

Clive Allison, protection director at Scottish Widows, said: “The days of one parent going out to work while the other takes care of the family is just not an option for many people.

“More than half of families with dependent children now rely on two incomes to maintain a decent standard of living, and as our statistics show, this isn’t likely to ease off any time soon.

“For many families, sacrificing half their income when they have children is a luxury they just can’t afford.”

Immigrants Should Accept Britain’s Christian Values

(Telegraph) – ALL NEW IMMIGRANTS should accept Britain’s traditional Christian values and be willing to adapt to them, according to a prominent clergyman.

The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said the country must never again repeat the multicultural experiment of recent decades.

He also called for an end to the segregation of Muslims in British cities, which he warned provides a breeding ground for extremists.

The bishop made his strongly-worded comments after Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, backed a campaign by the cross-party Balanced Immigration Group to stop Britain’s population reaching 70 million.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, who grew up in Pakistan before joining the Church of England, said in a statement: “Both he and the group are right that every country has limits to the numbers of new arrivals that it can accommodate and the UK, in particular, as a small country cannot take an indefinite number of people who wish to live here.

“Not only is there over-crowding, especially of metropolitan areas, but social, educational and medical services are placed under increasing strain and there is always the concern about jobs and housing for the indigenous population, particularly from its poorer sections.

“The question, however, is not simply one of numbers but also of the quality of would-be immigrants. One of the missing features of the mass immigration of the 50s and 60s was any concern for the congruence of such immigration with the values, culture and language of the host country. We must never again allow this to happen.”

The bishop admitted some immigration would be necessary, particularly with an ageing workforce, but added: “All would-be immigrants should be willing to adapt to living in a context shaped by traditional British values, which have been largely derived from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

“This does not, of course, exclude their own contribution once they are here, but we should expect not hostility but a desire to become good residents or, for some, citizens of the country to which they have come of their own volition.

“Whilst we can acknowledge the reality and the value of a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, this should not again result in the kind of politically-correct multiculturalism which has led not to engagement and mutual learning between the different communities but to the isolation and segregation which has given extremists the chance to propagate their noxious ideology, especially among the young and impressionable.

“We need redoubled effort to engage ethnic and faith communities that may be in danger of isolation. The mobility of young people in terms of travel, education and interaction should be encouraged. People from Islamic lands, in particular, should not be isolated by drawing a cordon sanitaire around them.”