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”

End Quote

"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 416.

    @32Adam wrote

    >Homosexuality is just another way of being. It's common throughout the animal kingdom,

    Err. No. Don't fall for the propaganda. Limited examples loudly pushed, not hugely understood animal behavior. Man different beast from animals with intelligence, tools, language, art etc.

    Not religious, common sense/reality.

    Nothing wriong with homosexuality, just don;t palm it of as normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    371. JamesStGeorge

    Just your aim to change the meaning of a long established word.

    That is precisely what is totally unacceptable. Nothing to do with any religion either."


    Ok, so what about when we stopped using the spelling "shoppe", or the spelling "Ye" for "the"?

    Do you also find these unacceptable, or are only some changes ok?

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    If it is OK to reframe marriage, why are stop at considering only gender, and not number? I might make a strong case that I love two people, maybe more. Plenty of precedent, and to quote one poster here, the sky hasn't fallen in in those countries either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    What 'consultation' - the Home Secretary has already said this is going to happen whatever the outcome of the consultation. More of an 'insultation' maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    Firtsly this is civil marriage, to give all couples equal rights under the law.

    Secondly I agree that the churches should be allowed the option of marrying gay couples the same as they are allowed the option of marrying straight couples. For all those who call themselves Christian, why are you so affriad of two people who want to invite God into their relationship?

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Since in practice most humane people happily refer to the civil partnership the gay couple they know have contracted as "they got married" I fail to see why it cannot have full parity. I think Peter T has it about right, equal civil marriage, do not force religious institutions to participate but allow if they wish.

    To me marriage as a whole will be strengthened by commitment being encouraged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    408. Abdi

    Apologies. I didn't realise that the point you were making was that gay marriage didn't exist anywhere before it existed. Unlike heterosexual marriage which existed everywhere before it existed anywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    406. Yes I can think of a few that have been mentioned already. Canada etc in today's society and prechristian there are numerous examples including areas of China, Roman empire and there are still tribes where this accepted and has been for years in Polynesia. Again why is it anyone's business other than people getting married? Please answer me that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.


    I'm well aware that it is legal in said countries. Point I was making is that before this, there had never been such a thing as gay marriage, even in liberal Hellenic Greece which was far more accepting of gay relationships that even the most tolerant country. My point is that marriage (M&F) wasn't contrived to discriminate against gays

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Heterosexuals and Homosexuals are equally human. If sexuality establishes that one is not human enough to have a basic human right like marriage, then is must equally establish that the other is not human either. So you either need to tell me that I am human enough that my gender and orientation does not matter, or tell me that I, a man, am too heterosexual to be allowed to marry my girlfriend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    398. Candlespete: "I fail to see the argument that marriage is only ever between 1 man and 1 woman. Even in this country we recognise polygamous marriages [...]"

    Don't you realise that a polygamous marriage includes a man! It remains a relationship based on the potential for reproduction. Can you cite a single tradition of marriage between a couple (or more) of the same sex?

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    I have no probelm with civil ceremonies for Gay weddings, but in the case of Churches, most congregations are composed of elderley people, who are not exactly known for thier tolerance. Personally I think it is too early to push for this as society is not ready, maybe within a 30 year timescale is more realistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Who decides what marriage is for other than the people entering into it? This idea of marriage is to provide a stable setting for a family and reproduction is blinkered to society. Examples:

    People marrying due to family connections - the royal family perhaps
    People marrying with no intent of having children
    People marrying not out of love but because one is pregnant and their religion requires

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    It's all about semantics but semantics it all is. I for one just don't understand why we can't have one word protected that defines the union of a man and a woman? For goodness sake, it's been that way for centuries. Or perhaps we should review the whole English language to make sure it's politically correct and doesn't discriminate against any race, creed, religion, sexual orientation, etc.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    I fail to see how the issue of reproduction makes either men or women less human then the other. Or how it would make heterosexuals or homosexuals less human then the other. I can not figure out which you meant. Either way, marriage is a human right, and by stating that one of them does not deserve that right, you are establishing that they are less then human. Which science has disproven.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    388. Abdi

    'Gay marriage has never existed in any form,'

    Except in Argentina, Belgium, Canada ,Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden, where it's legal now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    I see marriage as a legal and cultural union, not a religious one. Both my parents are remarried, and neither of their weddings had any mention of religion. There is also nothing wrong with allowing others to live according their own values, but don't presume to hold some moral high ground over gay people (that in itself is un-christian if you ask me).
    I am extremely happy about the propsals!

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    There is, of course, the point that homosexual relationships are good for our planet as they don't generate offspring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    I fail to see the argument that marriage is only ever between 1 man and 1 woman. Please spend some time with google and realise how wrong you are. Even in this country we recognise polygamous marriages conducted outside the UK. Paying benefits on this basis too. Why do you care so much about preventing people in love marrying?

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    384 Ken 1760

    No offence taken, thanks.


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