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UPDATE: Government to announce full plans for equal marriage tomorrow

Religious establishments permitted to hold same-sex unions, says PM David Cameron

Gemma Rose

Mon, 10 Dec 2012 12:35:38 GMT | Updated 2 years today

The UK government will tomorrow announce its full intentions on legalising civil and religious same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

The Government had previously stated that religious bodies would not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. However, a leak on Friday revealed that religious establishments would be permitted to hold equal marriage services if they so wish.

 

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement: "I'm a massive supporter of marriage and I don't want gay people to be excluded from a great institution. This is a free vote for members of parliament, but personally I will be supporting it."

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has backed this view: "It's a demonstration of a couple's commitment to each other, of their loving relationship and they wish to celebrate that in the eyes of society and I think we should make that celebration [the ceremony] available to anyone regardless of who they are."

James-J Walsh, Campaign Director at Out4Marriage has responded to the comments from Government: "David Cameron's comments create a real feeling of hope around the imminent release of the Government's position for marriage equality in England and Wales, and Maria Miller's statement to Parliament will hopefully legislate for same-sex marriage in institutions that choose to welcome the LBGT community."

Religious institutions will not be obliged to conduct same-sex marriages. The changes in law will give them the freedom to choose, and the Government will protect those who choose to oppose gay marriage.

Mr Cameron added: "If there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn't want to have a gay marriage, it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it. This is absolutely clear in the legislation."

The new legislation will not only give the LGBT community more freedom within society, it will have a number of positive secondary impacts such as international legal recognition for same-sex British couples abroad. Groups such as The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Jews will celebrate this breakthrough, as they have been vocal in wanting to conduct marriages for their lesbian and gay congregants.

The move follows the lead of the Scottish Government, who proposed to legalise civil and religious same-sex marriage over 15 months ago in September 2011. Tom French of The Equality Network, a national charity working for LGBT equality and human rights in Scotland have welcomed the news: "The news will provide a welcome boost to the Scottish Governments equal marriage legislation, and it is a further indication that the proposals are fair and progressive."

Liberal Democrat for St Austell and Newquay, Stephen Gilbert said: "Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same too. Widening equal marriage to allow churches to opt in is a very positive step forward."

 

However there were some who criticised the government stating that the legislation doesn't go far enough.

 

Peter Tatchell said: "Sadly the Prime Minister is still declining to support the right of opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership if they wish. He plans to maintain the legal ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. This is anti-heterosexual discrimination. Straight couples deserve equality."

 

Jonathan West, head of Family and Matrimonial law at city law firm Prolegal said: "The Prime Minister's desire to give religious institutions the chance to offer marriage services for same-sex couples is welcome, but it doesn't go far enough.
 
Religious institutions currently exist in a legal niche where they can discriminate on the basis of sexuality against same-sex couples. However, Governments should not shy away from attacking discriminatory practices in every part of society. Apart from religious bodies, any institution which engages in this form of discrimination would be pilloried by public opinion and would certainly be on the wrong side of the law.
 
Regardless of sexuality, people should be able to choose whether or not they have a religious wedding. Until this is backed up by legislation, the discriminatory practices of religious institutions won't reflect a society that aspires to be open and inclusive".

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