Gay marriage: Government consultation begins


Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone says that the state should "rejoice" in people's desire to marry

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The government has launched a 12-week consultation on allowing gay couples in England and Wales to marry.

The proposal is being fiercely opposed by some senior church figures, as well as a number of Conservative MPs.

Civil partnerships, introduced in 2005, already give gay couples similar legal rights to married couples.

But the government wants them to be legally allowed to make vows and declare they are married before the next general election, due in 2015.

The Home Office's consultation paper proposes:

  • to allow same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony
  • to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage
  • to allow people to stay married and legally change their gender
  • to maintain the legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service

Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said: "We're not looking at changing religious marriage, even for those that might wish to do it.

Start Quote

It's people saying we are not quite good enough. We are nice people but not quite first-class citizens”

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"I understand the liberal Jews, the Quakers and some unitarian churches would like it, but that's not in the sight of this consultation."

Labour welcomed the proposals but said they did not go far enough.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Religious marriages are a matter for each church and denomination, not for the government. But equally, the government should go further than they currently plan.

"Churches who want to celebrate gay marriage [should have] the chance to do so."

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also welcomed the government's commitment to legalise same-sex civil marriages but said he was unhappy about the continued ban on religious same-sex marriages.

"This is not only homophobic but also an attack on religious freedom. While no religious body should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, those that want to conduct them should be free to do so."

Mike Judge, from the campaign group Coalition for Marriage, said: "Marriage is so much part of everyday life. If we change its meaning in law, it will have a knock-on effect in everyday life."

He pointed to Spain which has changed birth certificates to say 'progenitor A' and 'progenitor B' instead of mother and father since same-sex marriage was legalised there.

The Home Office is also asking individuals and organisations to give their views on the proposals for England and Wales in an online survey.

The Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for reform of the marriage laws, arguing that they are outdated and discriminate against same-sex couples.

While in opposition, Prime Minister David Cameron backed a move to consider allowing civil partnerships to be classified as marriage, as part of his modernising drive in the Conservative Party's Contract For Equalities, published in May 2010.

However, some Conservative MPs are uncomfortable with the move, arguing it will undermine the traditional idea of the family.

When legislation comes before the Commons, Tory MPs are expected to be offered a free vote to avoid an embarrassing backbench revolt.

'Shame' on UK

Earlier this month, during Commons questions about the consultation, Conservative backbencher Peter Bone said: "Wouldn't it just be very simple to write back and say: 'Marriage is between a man and a woman so this is completely nuts'?"

Mike Judge from the Coalition for Marriage: "You can have equality and still maintain traditional marriage"

Meanwhile, senior members of the clergy have complained that politicians should not be allowed to redefine marriage.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said the "grotesque" plans would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world" if implemented.

A week later, Roman Catholic congregations across England and Wales were read a letter from the Church's two most senior archbishops saying the change would reduce the significance of marriage and it was the duty of all Roman Catholics to make sure it did not happen.

The leader of the Church of England, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, has said the law should not be used as a tool to bring about social changes such as gay marriage.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights charity Stonewall, has said the issue was neither about religious freedom nor party politics.

"Ultimately it's about the freedom of a small group of people to be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else," he said.

The Scottish government held its own consultation process and received more than 50,000 responses.

A number of other countries already allow same-sex couples to marry, including Spain, Canada, Argentina, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden and Belgium.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Do the majority of people in this country really think that having a same sex couple, who will no doubt be allowed to adopt children and bring them up, and as such allow that child to experience all the mental problems associated with not having either a father or mother figure, but two of the same, is really a good idea. Shame on you. The future looks bleak for society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    A marriage in a church is a religious marriage. The church is right to have an opinion that a religious marriage is between a man and a woman only. I'm an atheist but I respect the church's view of what marriage is. A civil marriage however, is different - anything goes.
    If I was gay the last place I'd want to marry is in a church. It'd be like drinking beer at an AA meeting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    What are we worried about people ?. The human race will not become extinct because a few gay and lesbian people wish to get 'married'. This is a non issue. There are more important things to worry about in the UK today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Follow on from 216 - just seen question 9 on page 11 (my browser seems to think a PDF page finishes half way down - grrr)... Anyway, very glad to see the question is being asked as well...

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    I for one am glad we no longer have an un-eleceted, un-representative and out of touch religious organisation(s) demanding they be able to dictate on government policy...


  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    whether marriage ends up applying to Gay people or not, we're still going to have children and bring them up in our loving homes.

    Hopefully your attempts at surrogacy will be subject to official scrutiny to ensure your suitability as a potential parents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    CT the state already did that when it legalised women's right to divorce and stopped taking kids away from young single mothers. Or do you advocates women stuck in abusive marriages?
    And given that for gay men to have children involves surrogacy or adoption and is therefore a drawn out difficult procedure they will probably make better parents than women like me who can just pop them out anytime!

  • Comment number 229.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I thought allowing civil partnership was the compromise on this issue as it offers the same legal position as marriages - doesn't it?

    Whats the difference apart from the setting of the ceremony?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Marriage is for opposite sex couples in a civil partnership they have all the same rights as a Married couple, it seems this is not good enough is it just all in the name. Maybe they should call it Manarriage and Femarriage why hijack the term marriage which has for tens of centurys ment a union between a man and woman. If they ever allow gay marriage in my church i,am out for one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    I'm usually quite tolerant of the religious and it's views but these people are really starting to test my nerve.

    You don't have a strangehold on marriage or the laws of the UK. Butt out! The church has as much right on this debate as Tesco does. This is one for the UK people alone, not some archaic institution that is tolerant of next to nothing.

    This is civil marriage, not religious. Go away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    209. Schism

    Marriage is a holy sacrament in which a man and women are permitted to have children. Lust is not supposed to be an issue, your not even allowed to have sex for the purpose of pleasure."


    Ignoring the fact that marriage is a civil contract and doesn't originate from Christianity....

    And the Church wonders why people call it out-dated?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    For me the root of this debate is over the question of who "owns" marriage? Is it God or the State?
    The churches lost this debate some time ago when civil marriages became possible.
    A civil marriage in the absence of God does not undermine the value of one in his presence.
    There's room to accommodate all here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    I support civil partnerships that give same sex couples equality in relation to: finance, property, taxation, etc. I also accept the views of some Christian churches against minority group pressure for 'gay marriage'; given the pretty clear message in Leviticus. Marriage is defined as a union between man and woman, and I don't believe it should change to suit one minority!

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    One suggestion could be to allow gay marriages to take place in Churches but for individual ministers to decided whether or not to perform the service.

    Anglican ministers can already opt out of re-marrying divorced people and baptising children under 13 if it goes against their personal beliefs.

    The same could apply to gay weddings.

  • Comment number 221.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Why does society think that there are no such things as absolute truths? Moral relativism is clouding the judgment of our politicians. It was wisdom to enshrine the definition of marriage, already understood by those of the time, in to our legal system. It wasn’t some, outdated, muddled and backward thinking. It was a wise decision based on an appreciation for the natural law of our existance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    I am always amazed by how many of the people who object to every form of gay equality seem perfectly happy to wear clothes made of more than one fabric, even to church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    There seems to be some confusion amongst the Godders.

    First they say it is important, then they say it should only be available to people they choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    @ 187. Secretbanker

    I couldn't agree more, I would have much rather been brought up by a gay couple whole loved each other rather than my parents, who whilst excellent people individually just screamed at each other for years.

    I see that people might think it strange but most children of homosexual couples turn out very well adjusted. It is love that matters not the sex of the parents.


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