Equal_Marriage_CakeThe government has today unveiled the results of its Equal Marriage Consultation that took place earlier this year.

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, said that legislation allowing same-sex marriage will be brought forward next year. She also said that the government plans would ensure that faith organisations would not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

She has clarified that it will be written into law that religious organisations will not be discriminated against for not conducting same-sex marriage.

Under the government plans religious organisations would have to “opt-in” to conduct same-sex marriages, and that if an organisation chose not to hold marriages between same-sex couples then its individual churches would not be able to conduct legal marriages.

Further details included in the announcement included the news that a process will be introduced to allow civil partnerships to be converted into civil marriage. The law will also be changed so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married, putting an end to the distressing process of having to end a marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued.

The government will give a free vote to MPs on the issue in early 2013, risking a rebellion from back-bench Conservative MPs who are against the proposal.

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Equalities Minister, re-iterated Labour’s support for the proposals and highlighted Labour’s efforts for LGBT equality in the past.

Amongst the Conservative backbenchers who jeered during the announcement, Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorps, asked whether the government would seek an electoral mandate before proceeding. Miller says it has already been done in consultation.

Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, has already stated the Unitarian support for same-sex marriage: “We welcome the decision of the Government to bring forward legislation that will allow the holding of same sex weddings in churches and other religious buildings if that is the wish to the religious body. Unitarians will grasp the opportunity to carry out equal marriage with open arms. As one of our hymns says ‘All Are Welcome Here’.”

The announcement was also welcomed by campaigning charity, Stonewall. Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: “We’re delighted about the government’s statement today and welcome the promise to legislate for equal marriage as warmly as on the three previous occasions that this announcement has been made.

‘We’re particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them. This is an important matter of religious freedom.”

The legal locks, which will be on the face of any primary legislation, are:

  •  no religious organisation, or individual minister, could be compelled to marry same-sex couples (or to permit this to happen on their premises);
  • it will be unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to do so (and that would mean the religious organisation itself opting in, the presiding minister having consented and  the premises in which the marriage is to be conducted having been registered);
  • the Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose
  • the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, or to opt-in to do so.  Canon law – which bans the marriage of same-sex couples – will continue to apply.  That means that it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same – sex marriages.

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