The Conservative Leader and Prime Minister David Cameron says he wants churches in England and Wales to be allowed to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. He said he did not want gay people to be "excluded from a great institution", but would not force any groups to hold ceremonies in their places of worship. Ministers will reveal their response to a consultation this week. MPs will be given a free vote on the issue.
Commenting on the news that legislation to allow equal marriage will also give churches the option to conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples, Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg said:
“I’m a supporter and always have been of same sex marriage, because I think marriage is a wonderful thing, a wonderful institution. “It’s a demonstration of a couple’s commitment to each other, of their loving relationship. “Every couple, gay or straight, who wants to celebrate that in the eyes of society should be able to. “It’s very important to remember that under our plans we’re not going to force any church or any religious denomination to hold same sex marriage ceremonies if they don’t want to. “But I do think it’s time that we allow any couple that want to, no matter who they are, to enjoy civil marriage.”
Labour’s Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Yvette Cooper MP, responding to David Cameron’s comments on same-sex marriage, said: We have been campaigning for some time for religious organisations who want to celebrate same sex marriage to be able to do so. People who love each other and want to make a long term commitment should be able to get married whatever their sexuality. David Cameron has listened, that is very welcome, but it is important too that Parliament gets on with it now. The Quakers, the Unitarians, Reform Judaism and other faiths who support same sex marriage should be able to celebrate it. Many religious organisations and people within different faiths support same sex marriage.
“Freedom of religion is important. No church or religious organisation should be or will be required to hold same sex marriages and we would expect that to be set out in the legislation. “I hope David Cameron will not be deterred by opposition within his own party and beyond. We need the Government to move forward with an early debate in Parliament so the issue doesn't stall.”
The Church of England said it would study the proposals but was firmly against same-sex marriage. In a statement, the Church said: "We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage."
"Given the absence of any manifesto commitment for these proposals - and the absence of any commitment in the most recent Queen's Speech - there will need to be an overwhelming mandate from the consultation to move forward with these proposals and make them a legislative priority." The Church said its stance was not a "knee-jerk resistance to change", but was "motivated by a concern for the good of all in society".
Mr Cameron's proposals have also angered some Tory MPs who have opposed the change in the law. Stewart Jackson (Con: Peterborough), who declared: "Gay marriage bill will be massacred in the Lords and govt can't use Parliament Act as it wasn't in manifesto. Arrogant Cameron knows best." David Davies (Con: Monmouth) said "What is going to happen is that we're going to lose a large number of very loyal activists who've gone out and campaigned for us over the years and who don't like this idea, so politically it's barking mad."
Bob Blackman (Con: Harrow East) told the BBC News Channel that David Cameron’s backing of religious same-sex marriages was wrong on “principle”. Mr Blackman went on to say how marriage is “between one man and one woman” and then stated that re-introducing Section 28 would be more appropriate than pushing ahead with marriage reform. Section 28 was a notorious piece of anti-gay legislation passed under the government of Mrs Thatcher in the 1980s. It banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools and was repealed by Tony Blair’s government under the Parliament Act.
A number of senior Tories such as Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are backing David Cameron's stance. The former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major praised his successor for making a “courageous and genuine attempt to offer security and comfort to people who - at present - may be together, yet feel apart.” He added: “We live in the 21st Century and must move on: every couple should have the opportunity and the right to formalise their relationship.”