Gay marriage bill clears Parliament

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A bill legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales has cleared Parliament and is ready to become law.

MPs completed the final stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on 16 July 2013, after approving amendments added to the bill in the House of Lords.

The bill can now go for Royal Assent, which means the first gay weddings in England and Wales could be held as early as next summer.

The changes will not be forced on religious organisations who will have to "opt in" to holding same-sex ceremonies.

There was broad support for the bill from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs. Many of the supporters of the bill wore pink carnations.

But the legislation did not pass without criticism, as entrenched divisions to the gay marriage plans continued.

Tory Sir Gerald Howarth voiced his anger at the plans which he believed would have unintended consequences, including for teachers and children.

He said it was "astonishing" that a bill which has "absolutely no mandate" has been "bulldozed" through Parliament, branding the process a "disgrace".

Sir Gerald said the government should think carefully about offending "large swathes" of the Conservative Party if it wants to rely on backbenchers' support in the future.

At one point there were tetchy exchanges between Sir Gerald and his party colleague Nick Herbert - after Mr Herbert, a former minister, admonished him for his "aggressive homosexual" comments made during an earlier debate on the bill.

The bill survived a stormy passage through the House of Commons despite fierce opposition from a large number of Conservative backbenchers.

The government also saw off an attempt to "wreck" the bill in the House of Lords.

Among the changes agreed by peers were protections for transgender couples which will allow people to change sex and remain married.

There will also be a review of whether belief organisations such as the Humanists will be allowed to carry out marriages.

Ministers also said they were prepared to look at eliminating any difference in the treatment of gay couples when it came to pension schemes.

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