“Opening up marriage to everyone is something I feel strongly about. And judging from the response to the announcement, it’s something that a lot of people feel strongly about.” Miller said on her Government blog.
More than 220,000 people and organisations had given their opinion on same-sex union to The Department for Media, Culture and Sport over the consultation period; although the Church of England had said it was not properly consulted over what was described as a ‘ban’ of conducting gay marriages in CoE establishments.
Miller refutes that, “You might have been puzzled by headlines like ‘Gay weddings to be banned in Church’, or seen campaigners on the news explaining their disappointment that the Government is ‘not allowing’ the Church of England to marry same-sex couples. Well, that’s not true.
“Religious freedom is as vital a principle as equality. It would be utterly wrong for the State to seek to dictate to religious organisations whether they should marry same-sex couples or not. So, under the proposals we have brought forward, every religious organisation would have the right to opt in if they choose to. However because the Church of England is a special case, the way it would opt in is different.”
The historic move will also contain protections for religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages through a ‘quadruple lock’ of measures in domestic legislation, but will also allow them to ‘opt in’ to carry out same-sex marriages if they choose.
The Legislation, backed by several high-ranking ministers, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne, aims to make provision for the marriage of same-sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes.
However the bill is thought to have at least 100 Tory MPs opposed to such a move, as well as reportedly a unknown number of Labour MPs.
The Government’s equal civil marriage consultation was launched on 15 March 2012. It ran for 13 weeks and closed on 14 June 2012 and received more than 228,000 individual responses, which is the largest ever response to a Government consultation
As part of the reforms, LGBT couples currently in civil partnerships can have the union upgraded to marriage.
Mrs Miller concludes, “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.”
She continued: “Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives. 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.”
[Written by Neil Lang]