Government sources have confirmed that the response to the equal marriage consultation will be published next week. Culture secretary Maria Miller is due to announce the government’s response to the gay marriage consultation on Thursday. It will propose legislation to allow marriage for same-sex couples and also allow churches in England and Wales to conduct ceremonies. Reports say the government plans to fast track legislation in the new year in order to prevent any disagreements rumbling on until 2015.
The initial consultation document said it would not be possible for a same-sex couple to get married in church but the government has changed its mind and is now expected to allow denominations to permit them. David Cameron plans to confront Tory opponents of gay marriage head on next week by coming out in favour of gay weddings in churches. He plans to officially lend his personal support to religious groups conducting gay weddings on their premises if they so wish.
The same conditions will apply as were introduced for civil partnerships. To protect those Churches opposed to same-sex marriage, the legislation will have to allow denominations such as the Quakers to opt in. The planned legislation specifically restricts same-sex unions to civil ceremonies in order to placate opponents.
The Revd Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude, said:
“Changing Attitude welcomes the news that the government proposes to legislate for marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, including allowing churches to conduct ceremonies. This will place additional pressure on the Church of England to allow individual congregations to solemnise same-sex weddings.
“Many Christian couples long to be able to celebrate their marriage in church, in the presence of their family and friends. Lesbian and gay Christian couples already experience their relationships as a blessing from God, in no way different from straight couples. God sanctifies our relationships and the Church needs to open its doors to celebrate our love and fidelity in covenant relationships.
“The Church of England is already in crisis following the refusal of General Synod to approve women bishops. The majority of church members and of the population of this country believe that the full inclusion of all people in church , whatever their gender, race or sexuality, is what the Spirit of God is revealing to us. People see the church as prejudiced and discriminatory and this is disastrous for its mission and ministry.
“Equal marriage in church will be a gift not only to lesbian and gay couples but to our families and congregations. I hope this will inspire people to more mature faith and deeper spiritual awareness. The government is offering the Church an opportunity to be a transformative body of people revealing God’s infinite and intimate love in all creation.”
The move will anger some Conservative MPs who have always opposed the change in the law and who have argued that it would lead to churches being forced against their will to marry gay couples.
David Cameron said: “I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.”
“But let me be absolutely 100% clear, if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it. That is absolutely clear in the legislation.
“Also let me make clear, this is a free vote for Members of Parliament but personally I will be supporting it.”
Tory MP Mark Pritchard said he feared exemptions for places of worship in the same-sex marriage Bill were likely to be ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court or the ECHR “within months” despite government assurances it would not be. “Same-sex marriage Bill now exercises Tory grassroots as much as lack of progress on a referendum. Number 10 should hear the alarms bells,” he said on Twitter.