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Friday, 25 January 2013

Coalition and Opposition parties welcome the publication of a bill on equal marriage

The Coalition commitment to open up marriage to same-sex couples took an important step forward today with the publication of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The Bill will:
  • enable same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies; 
  • ensure those religious organisations that wish to do so can opt in to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples; and
  • protect those religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples from successful legal challenge.
The Government reiterated today its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of religion, and the Bill protects and promotes religious freedom through a ‘quadruple lock’. This ensures that religious organisations and individual ministers can act in accordance with their beliefs on this issue.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller said: 
“Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country - one which has changed throughout our history, and continues to change. The values of marriage bind families and communities together and bring stability. I believe that couples should not be excluded from marriage just because they love someone of the same sex. In opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society. Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives." 

Mrs Miller continued: "I have always been crystal clear that I would not put forward any legislation that did not provide protection for religious organisations. This Bill protects and promotes religious freedom, so that all religious organisations can act according to their doctrines and beliefs. Crucially, the Bill recognises the unique legal situation of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Unlike any other religious organisation in this country, their clergy are subject to a legal duty to marry parishioners. To protect them from legal challenge, therefore, the Bill makes clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples. Both Churches have been clear that they do not currently wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples. If they choose to do so at a later date, they will of course be able to.”

The Bill contains specific measures to deal with the unique legal position of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Unlike any other religious bodies in this country, their clergy have a specific legal duty to marry parishioners. The Bill also ensures that Anglican Canon law, which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, does not conflict with civil law.

Both the Church of England and the Church in Wales have been very clear that they do not currently wish to conduct same-sex marriages. The Government has accepted this and the Bill provides the necessary legal protections for them, as it does for other religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples. As with every other religious organisation, the Church of England and the Church in Wales will be able to decide for themselves whether and when to allow marriages of same-sex couples according to their rites. Should the Church of England so decide, it could bring forward to the Synod an Amending Canon to amend its Canon law, and a Measure to amend the Book of Common Prayer and change the Marriage Act. Like all Synodical legislation the Measure would be subject to Parliamentary approval. Should the Church in Wales decide to allow same-sex marriages, the Bill sets out a procedure for its governing body to ask the Lord Chancellor to make secondary legislation enabling it to do so.

Responding for the Labour party shadow Women & Equalities, Yvette Cooper , said: "Couples who love each other and want to make a long term commitment should be able to get married whatever their gender or sexuality. Just as with civil partnerships in 2004, we look forward to passing this Bill into law with Labour votes. As freedom of religion is important, no church or religious organisation will be required to hold same sex marriage ceremonies, but those who want to should be able to. So I'm glad the Government has changed course and accepted our proposal that churches such as the Quakers and Unitarians who want to hold same sex marriages should be able to do so."
Continuing Ms Cooper said "The Government also needs to make sure other churches - including the Church of England and the Church in Wales - can sign up to equal marriage in future if they change their minds, without needing to return to cumbersome primary legislation. We look forward to scrutinising the Bill in detail during the parliamentary committee stages to get it right and hope it will get widespread support. Surveys show the majority of people support marriage for same sex couples. 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."
Commenting on the publication of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee for Home Affairs, Justice and Equality, Julian Huppert said: “The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, and crucial to that is equal rights for all. Equal marriage will strengthen the important tradition of marriage in our society, ensuring it remains a vibrant institution well into the 21st century and beyond. Previous governments have shied away from taking action on equal marriage, but the Liberal Democrats are tackling the inequalities faced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community head on. The state should not bar a couple who want to marry just because of their gender and the state should not bar a religious body that wishes to do so from conducting same-sex marriages.”

The Green party MP Caroline Lucas took to twitter to confirm she is supporting the legislation published by the government. The United Kingdom Independence Party is opposing the Equal Marriage but most commentators see that as a vote grabbing exercise for Conservatives who are unhappy with the proposals. Around 130 Conservative MPs will be voting against the bill and are likely to be joined in the lobby by some Labour and Lib Dems and the Democratic Unionist Party. Second reading of the bill will take place on February 5th 2013.