Members of Parliament (MPs) will get to vote for the first time on gay marriage in England and Wales on 5 February.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was given its first reading in parliament today, a two-minute long formality with no debate.
The bill was introduced by Maria Miller MP, Minister for Women and Equalities, in the House of Commons.
The leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley announced the first major debate will take place at the second reading on 5 February.
Gay and lesbian couples already have civil partnerships, giving similar rights to marriage, in Britain.
The new legislation would move England and Wales to marriage equality. Parallel legislation is being drafted in Scotland.
Religious bodies who wished to will be able to conduct same-sex marriage. But the Church of England and Church in Wales will be legally barred from doing so.
The Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism want to offer gay marriage but the leadership of the Church of England, Catholics and Muslim Council of Britain have been vociferously opposed.
Religious bodies will never be forced into marriage, Miller says, thanks to a ‘quadruple lock’ of protections.
Research by the Coalition for Equal Marriage indicates a clear majority of MPs will vote for same-sex marriage. It will the subject of a free vote.
It is also supported by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, his Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Labour leader Ed Milliband.
A poll carried out by ICM for the Guardian in December showed 62% of voters in favor, with just 31% opposed.
The government has dismissed fears that the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ will be removed as a result of marriage equality.
They also do not plan to change the definition of adultery or non-consummation of marriage, so those won’t be grounds for divorce in same-sex marriage, unless the adultery was with someone of the opposite gender.
Finally, they have promised protection for faith school teachers to still preach their belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, while recognizing the existence of the law.
After the second reading and vote, the bill will have to pass through committee and report stages in the Commons and a third reading. And it will also have to go through a similar process in the House of Lords before it becomes law.