British Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg has told lesbian and gay teenagers they should have the right to marry in church.
The Liberal Democrat leader made the comment at a brunch for LGBT youths ahead of World Pride in London today (7 July).
The event was hosted by Stonewall, Britain’s leading lesbian, gay and bisexual campaigning organization.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government consulted the public over the last few months on introducing same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
But unlike in Scotland, where the results of a separate consultation are expected soon, the government only proposed marriage in non-religious buildings for same-sex couples in England and Wales.
Now Clegg wants that taken further and says the government may push forward legislation to allow fully equal gay marriage ceremonies to be conducted by religious bodies who wish to do so.
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.’
When asked by one of the young people attending the Stonewall brunch if he agreed with the Conservative party allowing a free vote on gay marriage to their members of parliament, he said that was not the way the Liberal Democrats would be doing it.
‘I can’t dictate the whipping arrangements of other parties. As far as my party is concerned is this is confirmed as a policy of my party and this is something we’ve got to deliver collectively,’ he explained.
But he declined to be drawn on a comment by another young person that it might present a problem that Queen Elizabeth is not only head of state but also head of the Church of England, whose hierarchy has, in some cases, spoken out against gay marriage equality.
‘You are not going to tempt me into talking about that. I have got myself into trouble enough over the years,’ he joked.
‘We have got to be really clear that this is secular law recognizing it.’
And he had promised to work hard to protect LGBT rights at a difficult time.
‘It is worth just considering that there are a lot of quite anxious frightened people around. There is a huge amount of insecurity because of what has happened to the economy.
‘It falls very, very heavily on your shoulders as young people. And the reason I start on that gloomy note. As people feel frightened and anxious it is often a climate in which bigotry, xenophobia and prejudice increase. They start lashing out at people.’
Despite that, he assured the audience that he, Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May were fully committed to LGBT equality and promised to ‘cherish, celebrate and, where necessary, protect’ the community.
The event was supported by Lloyds Banking Group who are going to be supporting all Stonewall’s work with young people from today.