The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller MP officially introduced the coalition government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill into the House of Commons yesterday.
It will be debated on February 5.
Despite opposition among back bench conservative MPs it is thought likely the Prime Minister with the support of the Liberal Democrats and Labour will secure a majority in the Commons for the legislation.
Following a public consultation the government outlined their plans late last year for the legislation which included:
All religious organisations, including the Churches of England and Wales would be legally barred from marrying same-sex couples.
The 2010 Equality Act would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against any religious organisation or individual minister refusing to marry a gay couple or allowing their premise to be used for the purpose.
Canon law, which bans the marriage of same-sex couples, will continue to apply and have precedent; meaning it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before the Church of England and the Church in Wales would be able to provide marriages for gay couples.
The Bill would then be subjected to the scrutiny of an MP’s committee before making its way back to the Commons for a third reading – at which point it would be sent to the House of Lords.
The Culture Secretary is refusing to rule out using the Parliament Act to override any opposition to the BIll in the House of Lords.
Stonewall the LGB equality charity is urging all its supporters in England and Wales to write to their MPs calling on them to support the bill when it is debated on February 5.
In December a MORI poll found 73% of people in Britain support equal marriage, but Stonewall is warning supporters against complacency and is urging straight people to support the campaign too.
Stonewall Chief Executive, Ben Summerskill, said:
“Sadly the minority of people who oppose equal marriage consistently use mistruths and smears to argue against it. Supporters of this modest measure mustn’t let a vocal minority block equality. People must write to, tweet, email or call their MPs to ask them for their support before the Bill’s Second Reading debate on 5 February.
“We need straight people with lesbian or gay friends or relatives to stand up for their rights too. Equality benefits everyone, which is why we need every supporter to press MPs to vote for it. Our message is simple. Speak now, or forever hold your peace.”
A YouGov poll for Stonewall’s Living Together report last year showed a clear majority of people in Britain support equal marriage, including three in five people of faith and over 80 per cent of people under the age of 50.
Julian Huppert MP, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee for Home Affairs, Justice and Equality said:
“The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, and crucial to that is equal rights for all.
“Equal marriage will strengthen the important tradition of marriage in our society, ensuring it remains a vibrant institution well into the 21st century and beyond.
“Previous governments have shied away from taking action on equal marriage, but the Liberal Democrats are tackling the inequalities faced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community head on.
“The state should not bar a couple who want to marry just because of their gender and the state should not bar a religious body that wishes to do so from conducting same-sex marriages.”
Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown & Peacehaven, said:
“I am proud of the Government for introducing this Bill which will advance equality and strengthen the institution of marriage at the same time as protecting the rights of religious institutions. I have always argued that the state should have a very good reason for preventing a couple from entering into a marriage, and being gay certainly isn’t one.
“I will be doing everything in my power to ensure the Bill is passed at Second Reading. There is a lot of support for it amongst my Conservative colleagues, although there will be MPs of all parties that are not supportive of the Government’s proposals. However I am confident that this important change in the law will be made.”
Adrian Trett, Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said:
“This is an historic day for equality as Parliament begins the process of debating these proposals which have been fought for by many campaigners. In the 21st century, every couple should be free to celebrate their relationship in marriage. Love is equal regardless of sexuality. Adopting equal marriage is a baseline of equality which will help this country be seen as a beacon of inclusiveness across the world. I’m proud of all Liberal Democrats who have supported this for many years, particularly Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, former Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson.”
“Equal marriage legislation will enable those religious organisations who wish to opt-in to be able to perform same-sex marriages. Some organisations, like the Church of England and Wales, will require changes in both their own primary and Canon law before being able to opt in and therefore will be legally barred from performing same-sex marriges for the time being. However should those internal laws be changed, amending this legislation will be simple compared to introducing it.”
Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove & Portslade, said:
“I am pleased that the Government is pressing ahead with this excellent piece of legislation. As a representative of a constituency with one of the highest numbers of same-sex couples, I am thrilled that equal civil marriage should soon be law.”