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Equal marriage

Exploding the myths and setting out what the Bill really means

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

On 25 January we published the Equal Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. As the second reading of the Bill takes place today, we highlight some of the myths around equal marriage and explain the truth within the Bill.

Myth: Marriage has not changed in hundreds of years.

Reality: Marriage is not static. It has always been an evolving institution. In the 19th century inequalities prevented Catholics, atheists, Baptists and many others from marrying except in the Anglican Church. In the 20th century the law was changed to recognise married men and married women as equal before law. Opening up marriage to all couples will strengthen the vital institution of marriage, and help ensure that it remains an essential building block of society. 

Myth: Religious organisations or minister of religion will be forced to conduct same sex marriages.

Reality: This is not true. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill makes clear that no religious organisation or religious minister will be compelled to marry same sex couples. A ‘quadruple lock’ of legal protections will ensure that all religious organisations can act according to their doctrines and beliefs.

Myth: The European Court of Human Rights will force religious organisations to conduct same sex marriages.

Reality: The case law of the European Court of Human Rights makes it clear that same sex marriage is a matter for individual states to decide. Any case before the Court would be brought against the UK Government, not a religious organisation. The Court would be bound to give priority to the rights of a religious organisation under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion. 

Myth: Teachers will have to promote same sex marriage to pupils in sex and relationships education.

Reality: This is not true. No teacher will be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. Teachers will of course be required to teach the factual position that under the law, marriage can be between opposite sex couples and same sex couples. There are many areas within teaching, particularly within faith schools, where this type of issue already arises and where subjects such as divorce are taught with sensitivity. The guidance governing these issues is the same guidance that will govern how same sex marriage in the classroom will be approached. Sex and relationships education is categorically not about the promotion of a particular sexual orientation - that would be inappropriate teaching.

Myth: You are abolishing the terms ‘husband’, ‘wife’, ‘mother’ and ‘father’.

Reality: This is not true - these terms will continue to exist. ’Husband’ will refer to a male marriage partner and ‘wife’ will refer to a female marriage partner, as now.

Read more mythbusters (PDF, 86kb) and associated documents around the Equal Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill, including our analysis and response to Aidan O’Neill QC’s legal opinion and scenarios.

Further information

Updates to this page

Published 5 February 2013