Back in March 2012 I blogged on the issue of gay marriage. The most senior Catholic cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had just hit out at the government’s plans to legalise gay marriage in an opinion piece published in the Sunday Telegraph. The issue was a hot political topic and the Equalities Minister was just about to launch an equal marriage consultation.
Almost one year on, the government has published legislation which will enable same-sex couples to marry. Whilst David Cameron has expressed strong support for same-sex marriage, the bill has divided Conservatives and has provoked fierce debate in Parliament and in the media. Conservative MPs will get a free vote on the legislation when it is debated in the Commons on Tuesday 5 February. This means that they will face no repercussions if they decide to defy government policy. However, commentators predict that the bill will pass through the Commons with the support of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.
Same sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2005, but the new law, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, will enable them to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies – where a religious institution has formally consented.
There has been some confusion over the legal position of the Church of England. In essence, because this institution is the ‘established church’, it has a legal duty to marry any person in their local parish church regardless of their religion. The new legislation will ensure that this duty does not extend to same sex couples so in effect, it will be illegal for the Church of England to marry same sex couples.
Stonewall, the gay, lesbian and bisexual charity, has long campaigned for equal marriage and has been running its “Say I Do to Equal Marriage” Campaign since July 2012. The charity warmly welcomes the most recent development and is urging people to continue making their voices heard in order to persuade ministers to vote in favour of the new legislation.