The government has announced that the first same-sex weddings can take place from 29 March 2014. This is sooner than expected as the government has been able to put in place the necessary arrangements much faster than previously thought.

This historic step will mean that, for the first time, every gay person in England and Wales will enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people.

Equalities Minister, Maria Miller said: "Marriage is one of our most important institutions, and from 29 March 2014 it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex.

"This is just another step in the evolution of marriage and I know that many couples up and down the country will be hugely excited that they can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love and commitment to each other by getting married."

The government are also working towards ensuring that couples who want to convert their civil partnership into a marriage can do so before the end of 2014.

The issue of equal marriage has divided politicians and has provoked fierce debate in Parliament, within religious institutions and also in the media. Under the new equal marriage law, religious organisations will have to opt in to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so. Because the Church of England 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 ensures 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. This is intended to have the effect of protecting the Church of England from legal claims that it is bound to marry anyone who requests it.