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UK Government announces same-sex marriage proposals

11 December 2012

Religious bodies other than the Church of England and Church in Wales will be able to opt in to holding same-sex marriage services, under UK Government proposals announced today.

Couples will be able legally to use the terms "husband" and "wife". Civil partnerships will continue as an option for same-sex couples only, but existing civil civil partners will be able to convert their relationship into a marriage.

Individuals will also be able to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said that the Anglican communion churches would face a legal bar to same-sex marriage as they had explicitly stated strong opposition to the move.

With some churches concerned about challenges to religious freedom if they continue to ban same-sex marriage, Mrs Miller promised a slate of further protections, involving:

  • no religious organisation or individual minister being compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit such marriages to take place on their premises;
  • making it unlawful for religious organisations or ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their governing body has expressly opted in to the provisions for doing so;
  • amendments to the Equality Act 2010 to prevent discrimination claims being brought against religious organisations or ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

Teachers, particularly in faith schools, "will be able to continue to describe their belief that marriage is between a man and woman whilst acknowledging and acting within the new legislative position which enables same sex-couples to get married".

Mrs Miller commented: "European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional 'quadruple legal lock'. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so."

Labour supports the proposals, which have also been welcomed by the gay rights organisation Stonewall, but around 100 Conservative backbenchers are believed to be opposed.

The plans are due to be introduced before the 2015 general election. The Scottish Government has promised legislation along similar lines for the current parliamentary programme.

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