Changing Attitude England welcomes the announcement by Andrew Lansley, the leader of the Commons, that the government’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to allow same-sex marriages in England and Wales will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday 5 February.
The bill will be published tomorrow, Friday 25 January, ahead of the bill’s second reading on 5 February.
The bill will be studied in detail by groups like Changing Attitude which support the introduction of equal marriage and by the Church of England and other denominations and faith communities wishing to remain exempt.
All religious organisations, including the Church of England and Church in Wales, will be legally prevented from marrying same-sex couples unless they decide to opt in. Churches governed from the centre will have to opt in as a body. In denominations with a congregational structure, individual congregations will be free to apply. Religious bodies including Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, are in favour of equal marriage.
The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or an individual minister for refusing to marry gay couples (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose).
Canon law and the 1662 Prayer Book, which define marriage as that between a man and a woman, would need to be amended before same-sex couples could marry in the Church of England
David Cameron is likely to secure a majority in the Commons with the support of Labour and Liberal Democrat members. Labour said the exemption for the established Church was “disappointing”.
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 then enter the House of Lords.
In its response to the consultation the government says it has no plans to change the definition of adultery or non-consummation of a marriage – which means neither could be cited as grounds for divorce in a same-sex marriage, unless the adultery was with someone of the opposite sex. They also dismiss the fear that the terms “husband” and “wife” could be removed as a result of same sex marriages.