Legislation enabling same-sex couples to marry was published on Friday, along with a promise from Culture Secretary Maria Miller that religious freedoms would be adequately protected.
The move has divided the Conservative party, with more than 100 Tory MPs against the proposal, however, the bill is likely to pass through the Commons with the support of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, and Conservative MPs will get a free vote on the legislation when it is debated in the Commons on 5 February, meaning they will face no repercussions if they decide to defy government policy.
Ms Miller said that the Bill recognised the unique legal situation of the Church of England and the Church in Wales: “Unlike any other religious organisation in this country, their clergy are subject to a legal duty to marry parishioners. To protect them from legal challenge, therefore, the bill makes clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples.
However, she added that while both churches have been clear that they do not currently wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, if they choose to do so at a later date, they will be able to.
The measures would also allow civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage, and enable married people to change their legal gender without having to end their union.
The bishop of Leicester, the Right Rev Tim Stevens, said he was grateful to Ms Miller for the “constructive” way in which she had consulted the Church of England on the issue of effective legal safeguards.
“I acknowledge the progress made on that front, and the commitment of the government to ensuring that the church’s concerns are properly accommodated in the draft legislation,” he said.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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