The UK Minister for Women and Equalities [official website] announced [press release] Tuesday the Conservative [party website] government's intent to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] in the coming year, with a provision that the state Church of England [religious website] will be barred from performing any marriages. Minister Maria Miller [official profile] made the statement in the House of Commons [official website], detailing [Guardian report] the government's plan as well as the research that went into the decision. Same-sex couples will be granted full access to civil marriage rights and permitted access to any marriage ceremonies available. However, if a religious organization has "opted out" of same-sex marriage, an individual minister in that sect would be unable to defy the group by marrying a couple. The Church of England will not be required to conduct or endorse same-sex marriages. Miller also suggested that the Church of England can advise the government if it changes its position on same-sex marriage.
Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have in this country. It binds us together, brings long-term commitment and stability, and makes society stronger. Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone. I feel strongly that, if a couple wish to show their love and commitment to each other, the State should not stand in their way. These changes will strengthen marriage in our society and ensure that it remains a modern and vibrant tradition. And we are also building a fairer society for all.A representative for the Labour [party website] party, the shadow minister of Equalities, supported the proposal and urged Miller to back it forcefully. The UK currently offers civil partnerships to same-sex couples, which will be eligible to be converted into marriages. The bill is expected to be presented in January. Miller suggested that 60 percent of Conservative members of parliament currently back the proposal.
The Conservative party's decision was made in response to a government consultation [materials] on the issue. Although the government found 53 percent of citizens who responded in favor of same-sex marriage, it received petitions with over 500,000 signatures opposed to legalizing civil marriage. In response to the government's announcement, a bishop for the Church of England released a statement [text]: "Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church; and while the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the noble lady minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together."