News story

Equal Marriage a step closer as legislation published

Government commitment to open up marriage to same-sex couples makes important progress.

A Government commitment to open up marriage to same-sex couples took an important step forward today with the publication of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill.

The Bill will:

  • enable same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies
  • ensure those religious organisations that wish to do so can opt in to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples
  • protect those religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples from successful legal challenge

The Government reiterated today its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees the right to freedom of religion, and the Bill protects and promotes religious freedom through a ‘quadruple lock’. This ensures that religious organisations and individual ministers can act in accordance with their beliefs on this issue.

“Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country - one which has changed throughout our history, and continues to change,” said Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller.

“The values of marriage bind families and communities together and bring stability. I believe that couples should not be excluded from marriage just because they love someone of the same sex. In opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society. 

“Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives. I have always been crystal clear that I would not put forward any legislation that did not provide protection for religious organisations. This Bill protects and promotes religious freedom, so that all religious organisations can act according to their doctrines and beliefs.”

The Bill’s ‘quadruple lock’

A religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple will only be possible if:

  • the governing body of the religious organisation has opted in by giving explicit consent to same-sex marriages
  • the individual minister is willing to conduct the marriage
  • if it takes place in a place of worship, those premises have been registered for marriages of same-sex couples

No religious organisation can be compelled to opt in to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises; and no religious organisation or minister can be compelled to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The Bill amends the Equality Act 2010 to make clear that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry a same-sex couple.

The bill also ensures that the common law legal duty on the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners will not extend to same-sex couples. It also protects the Church of England’s Canon law which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, so that it does not in conflict with civil law.

Read our equal marriage factsheet, myth-buster and short guide.

Church of England and the Church in Wales

The Bill contains specific measures to deal with the unique legal position of the Church of England and the Church in Wales. Unlike any other religious bodies in this country, their clergy have a specific legal duty to marry parishioners. The Bill also ensures that Anglican Canon law, which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, does not conflict with civil law.

Read Maria Miller’s blog on equal marriage and the Church of England (December 2012).

Other measures in the Bill include:

  • enabling civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage 
  • enabling married individuals wishing to change their legal gender to do so without having to end their marriage.

Further information

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