Gay marriages: Government publishes legislation

Wedding cake decoration The bill includes a "quadruple lock" to protect religious freedom, the government says

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Legislation to enable same-sex marriages to take place in England and Wales has been published.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller told BBC Radio 4: "We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry."

There would be adequate protection for religious freedoms, she said.

The bill has divided Conservatives, with former Defence Secretary Liam Fox recently describing it as "ill thought through and constitutionally wrong".

Conservative MPs will get a free vote on the legislation when it is debated in the Commons on Tuesday 5 February, meaning they will face no repercussions if they decide to defy government policy.

More than 100 Tory MPs are thought to be against the idea, but the bill is likely to pass through the Commons with the support of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2005, entitling them to the same legal rights as married couples across a range of matters, such as inheritance, pensions provision, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration rights.

'Special case'

The new law, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, will enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies - where a religious institution has formally consented.

Start Quote

The legislation looks as though it was made on the hoof to deal with the political problem du jour”

End Quote Liam Fox Conservative MP and former Defence Secretary

It will also allow couples who have previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage.

Mrs Miller said the government recognised that "some churches won't want to participate in same-sex marriages".

"We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn't appropriate for their particular beliefs," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

However, the government also wanted any religious institution that did want to carry out same-sex marriages to be able to do so, she said.

The Church of England and Roman Catholics, among other denominations, have voiced opposition to the plans and are expected to oppose the bill, even with its caveats.

But some religious groups, including Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, are in favour.

The culture secretary set out the legal position of the Church of England and the Church in Wales in some detail in a blog post in December.

"The Church of England, as the established church, is a special case. It has a duty in law to marry any person in their local parish church, regardless of their religious affiliation," she wrote.

The legislation would ensure this duty did not apply to same-sex couples, she said.

'Christians under threat'

But she added that it could put forward a change to the law "of its own accord" if its governing body, the Synod, changed its policy: "Put simply, should the Church of England decide to carry out same-sex marriage in the future, it can itself amend legislation to effect this with the approval of Parliament."

Mrs Miller told the Commons in December that no religious organisation "will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples".

Mr Fox has said the proposals will put the established church in an "anomalous and absurd" position.

In a letter to constituents that was made public earlier this month, Mr Fox said same-sex relationships should be treated "with tolerance and respect", but he did not believe there was much demand for them to be recognised as marriages.

"The legislation looks as though it was made on the hoof to deal with the political problem du jour," he wrote.

The government was in danger of "further weakening and splintering Britain's traditional religion at a time when many Christians feel that they are under threat", he said.

"To fail to understand this is to risk an affront to a large stabilising and normally acquiescent section of this country which will sow completely unnecessary seeds of dissent."

The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, said marriage should continue to be "a union between one man and one woman. It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been part of the glue that has bound countless successive societies together."

The "absence of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to give pause for thought", he said.

But John Wadham, general counsel at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, welcomed the move: "We agree that couples who wish to marry should be permitted to marry in church if their church also wishes to marry them."

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "Marriage as an institution has undergone repeated reform and modernisation over hundreds of years and needs to again now to reflect the equal value we place on long-term loving relationships for same-sex couples too."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    and so the division continues, whilst the rich and powerful are in Davos, deciding how best we can serve them, whilst supping champagne

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Neither my faith nor my marriage is in any way, shape or form threatened by what anyone else chooses to believe or to do. Surely it is the right of everyone to be free to make a loving commitment to the individual of their choice (with all the legal & financial protections) in the manner of their choice including the blessing of a deity if they feel it appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I'm all for gay marriage. It gives them a chance to be as miserable as the rest of us and to lose everything when the divorce happens. Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I'm gay. I'm in a Civil Partnership.

    Why on Earth would I want to get married in a church? Would be this be the same church that labbels me as a sinner for loving my partner? What are the advantages?

    I'm sorry, I just don't get it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    If it makes two people happy they why should anyone else care ?

    To the religious types on this thread - how would you feel about a law that banned Christians from marrying ?
    Your silly iron-age book of fairytales is a poor standard by which to create modern laws for the real world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Traditionalists and the Church are not anti-gay. We just happen to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. If we have to have this debate then don't make us out to be something we are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    147. Sweece marriage was never a religious service until it was hijacked by churches. Similarly, most marriages that take place in the UK are civil, taking place in registry offices so therefore not religious.

    We need to have a system similar to France where all marriage take place in a civil setting and those who chose to have a religious blessing in a church later can do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    In this day and age of multi-culturalism we shouldn't be pushing marriage further, but cutting it back and away from religious bigots. The Church should be able to refuse the ceremony to anyone, but the legal contract should be for all. If you want an expensive ceremony, do it your own way. Or pay me to play the part of a vicar, for all the legality the Church ceremony has.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Re 203 Adam

    'All the Church is doing is carrying out it's duty to uphold it's teachings and make them relevant to the modern world'.

    Sorry Adam but a lot the church's teaching do not relate to the modern world at all. I do not want to be governed by people whose mind is stuck 2000 years in the past. I want to live in a world where our beliefs evolve with our society, not contrary to it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    A very good way of proving that there is growing public opposition to gay marriage is that fact that attendance figures at Churches that oppose gay marriage have shown big increases in Sunday service attendance over the past 20 years or so, especially among young people.

    Don't believe all the media scare stories that nobody goes to Church these days, that simply isn't true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Oxford dictionary. Husband, a married man in relation to his wife. It seems to me that more than the law will need to changed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    #208 Franly you have to shudder in sympathy for the actual good Christians with this lot representing them. Still there have probably been a lot more on this board than you think, just that unless they specifically announce their religion it's virtually impossible to tell a good person who is a christian from a good person who isn't

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Churchill knew the Lord God and would NEVER have approved of this!"

    It was his Home Secretary in the 1950s who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights. It would never have occurred to him that homosexuals (and other groups) would ever qualify for protection under the ECHR. However, time and society move on and if someone's freedom carries no cost to you why should you object to it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Bit like beauty, same sex marriage, its in the eye of the beholder. happily I can lawfully think what I like & although this legislation seeks to equalise homosexual & hetrosexual marriage in society I will forever be aware that only hetrosexual partners can sustain the population. So equal in law on paper but very different and self evidently not the same thing at all as a hetrosexual marriage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Lets not confuse the issue at hand here. This is about NOT FORCING ANY RELIGIOUS entity (Church, Mosque, Temple) to be LEGALLY bound to conduct a marriage between two people of the same sex. THAT IS ALL.
    This is not about Freedom, or Exemptions, etc.
    Far too much is being made of this, and this legislation is about keeping the Law and Religion from NOT being at odds with each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    The Church hasn't lost this argument at all. All the Church is doing is carrying out it's duty to uphold it's teachings...

    If that's all the Church is doing then they shouldn't be in this argument
    What they are doing to trying to instil their religious dogma into secular law. They've been told they won't be forced to conduct gay marriages but still want to prohibit gay civil marriage

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.


    ...If a particular Religion says NO! then don't legislate to force them to preform services..."

    Did you even read the article before commenting? For the hundreth time, nobody will be forced to perform a marriage ceremony in a religious building if they do not wish to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Trout Mask Replica @ 199

    Oh missed the joke in my comment.
    Capt. Beefheart would have gotten it

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    With all the problems the country faces, Cameron is devoting all this time and effort to homosexual "marriage".
    No wonder the country is going down the pan

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    @36. Alasdair Campbell
    "No church should be required by law to conduct partnership services contrary to its beliefs." Well if had bothered to read the article you would know that no Churches are being forced to conduct 'partnership services' contrary to its beliefs.
    "To treat gay partnerships as the same as marriage I find offensive." How?!? What is offensive about it? It isn't aimed at you is it?


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