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 436.

    One thing is clear in all of these discussions... those for gay marriage have a solid argument, based in basic Human rights and equality for all. Those against seem to repeat the same contradictory and hypocritical nonsense that even a child could see through. Imaginary children being hurt? Ownership of ancient traditions of unity predating Christianity? Those people should be under 24 hour care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    431 Macin Tosh, and your point is that two thousand odd years is not archaic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    46 Minutes ago
    You may think its stupid for the gay community to go this far just for marriage but it isn't as simple as that. This is about equal rights, no human rights.

    When do we heterosexuals get the right to a civil partnership equal to yours? Are we less equal just because we do not have our own Pride events?

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    @Luke 425
    So what about 'equal rights' of bisexuals? Should they be allowed to form unions of four people such that each can fulfil both sides of their nature, and then to avoid 'discrimination' that union be recognised as no different to what we currently know as marriage? If not, why not, and how does the argument differ from conceding the gay issue on marriage? And what of the polyamorous?

  • Comment number 432.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    @ 428 Martin
    "I would think they are afraid of betraying their deity as both Christianity and Islam are both founded on archaic beliefs that homosexuality is a sin."

    I can't speak for Islam, but Christianity was founded on Christ - the clue is in the name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    I am so sickened by the propaganda that Christianity "Invented" marriage! If anyone is responsible for stealing partnerships and "redefining" marriage for their own ends it's the Christian faith! Marriage is not owned by the Catholic church or the CofE, never has been. They stole the concept from previous religions and have NO CLAIM on it! Stop lying. And the BBC should stop repeating this lie too

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    Lets face it the politicians and politically correct pushing this will promise that it will not apply to religious marriages and then once in place the pressure on churches to host gay marriages will increase to the point churches are forced or sued for not doing so. Freedom of religious thought will be taken away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    412 R... I would think they are afraid of betraying their deity as both Christianity and Islam are both founded on archaic beliefs that homosexuality is a sin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    No, it directly answers what you stated.
    'dehumanizing' why? Far as I'm aware their is no secular disadvantage in a civil partnership, it is a contract that confers all the same legal and kinship rights and responsibilities, including forming a familey. So whats the problem?
    Why seperate? Custom/practice in all Judeochristian based cultures is male/female = marriage, always has been.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    408. Abdi
    Point I was making is that before this (countries legalizing gay marriage), 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."


    So your argument is that we shouldn't have it because before it existed, it didn't exist.

    Go on....

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    You may think its stupid for the gay community to go this far just for marriage but it isn't as simple as that. This is about equal rights, no human rights. Not allowing gay people to marry is taking away their human rights, even in this century gay people are still not seen as equal and the church is promoting this by preventing civil marriage. Well this is what I think, I'm only a kid after all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    Marriage is a contract not a 'basic human right'.

    This completely dodges the issue that separating one class of people from another is dehumanizing.

    I do not see how these are so separate. Marriage establishes that two unrelated people are a family, and forming a family is a right. The ability to enter into a contract and have that contract recognized by society is a right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    Egalitarianism? Nothing in the natural world is equal, and there are such things as quality and superiority. This is the very underpinning of Evolution. I know it's "nice" to rant on about equality, and this myth certainly saves us having to deal with some unpleasent self evident truths, but lets just grow up abit and see the world for what it is shall we? As far as Gays go...Who cares.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    418. ProfPhoenix
    ' They did it with culture: moved from tolerating other cultures to criminalising critics. Could gays insist on marriage within either mosques or christian churches.'
    Which planet are you on? It's not a criminal act to hold racist views, otherwise all BNP and EDF members would be inside. And nobody is proposing making churches or mosques sanction gay marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    Society decides. Its a social structure. Polygamous marriage may be recognised but trying to marry more than one person in legal terms in the UK is a crime called bigamy.

    Comments made by some activists, and more than one person on HYS in the last couple of weeks suggests that criminalising any one who doesnt fall into line is the ultimate objective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    416. Neil Postlethwaite

    'Nothing wriong with homosexuality, just don;t palm it of as normal.'

    But it is normal. What you mean is that it isn't the norm. That's not the same as normal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    Why so much prominance given the this issue BBC? 2 comment boards in less than a week when there is so much else to comment on.

    Marriage is a contract not a 'basic human right'.Some contract perhaps, exact contract no.Most sensible way would seem to be to have hetros civil partnerships too, so giving none faith based unions whatever similiarities some seem to think is missing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    We will remove discrimination against gay marriages but the equality tyrants will not be satisfied until those who have moral or religious objections are criminalised. They did it with culture: moved from tolerating other cultures to criminalising critics.There might also be problems in reconciling this with Islam. Could gays insist on marriage within either mosques or christian churches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 417. it GARRIAGE..and leave us alone.


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