Gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales are a step closer to being able to legally marry after government plans for marriage equality were leaked today (7 December).
They suggest Prime Minister David Cameron will allow same-sex marriage in churches and other religious buildings – if the religious authorities involved want to bless them.
This means he will risk a major battle with his party’s backbenchers, as well as with the Church of England who have spoken openly against marriage equality, the Evening Standard reports.
Organizations that reject gay marriage, such as the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, will have legal protection from being forced to host ceremonies against their wishes, the Conservative leader will pledge.
Allowing gay couples to marry in religious buildings was originally pushed forward by Cameron’s coalition partner and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
Speaking at Stonewall event for gay youth in July, Clegg said: ‘It seems to me, on the gay marriage point totally uncontroversial that if two individuals want to show love and lifelong commitment to each other I want that properly celebrated by society.
‘Some of this is bound up with people’s concerns about the religious connotations of marriage.
‘We are not asking any church to conduct gay marriages if they don’t want to. But I personally think those churches who do wish to do this should be able to do so.’
Culture Secretary Maria Miller will formally launch the same-sex marriage bill on 13 December, when she will issue the Government’s response to the consultation on the plans.
There have been ‘hundreds of thousands’ of responses, including a large number of protests by church-goers.
Government lawyers have stated they have devised a legal ‘lock’ to protect churches that oppose the marriage law. The UK will seek consultation with Europe to ensure no gay couple can sue a religious building for not holding their wedding.
A government spokesman said: ‘We are committed to bringing equal civil marriage forward and the consultation results will be announced next week.
‘We are very clear that religious organisations must be protected and that none will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage.
‘EU law is very clear that this is the case and we will additionally bring in very strong legal locks to ensure that this is watertight.’
According to sources, Cameron is prepared for a row with his MPs, because he believes the public are relaxed about the idea.
Pressure group Out4Marriage said it was ‘delighted’ by the news, saying: ‘We are glad that they appear like us to believe in religious freedom, that churches must have the freedom to decide themselves whether to allow gay couples to marry.
‘We eagerly await the full details of this historic change in the law next week.’
MPs will have a free vote on the bill next year.