News story

Marriage for everyone - Government sets out plan for equal marriage

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

Same-sex couples in England and Wales are set to be allowed to marry, under plans unveiled by Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller

Following a Government consultation, legislation allowing same-sex marriage will be brought forward next year. The proposals are designed to create watertight protections for religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages, but will allow them to ‘opt in’ if they so choose.

The historic move will mean that for the first time:

  • same-sex couples will be able to get married in civil ceremonies

  • religious organisations who chose to ‘opt in’ will be able to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples

  • a ‘quadruple lock’ of measures in domestic legislation would protect religious freedom, putting beyond doubt the possibility of successful challenge through domestic or European courts

The Government reiterated today its absolute commitment that no religious organisation, or individual minister of religion, would be forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. European law already puts protection for religious freedom beyond doubt (under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) but the Government intends to go even further and put in place a ‘quadruple lock’ in domestic law.

The legal locks, which will be on the face of any primary legislation, are:

  • no religious organisation, or individual minister, could be compelled to marry same-sex couples (or to permit this to happen on their premises)

  • it will be unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation’s governing body has expressly opted in to do so (and that would mean the religious organisation itself opting in, the presiding minister having consented and  the premises in which the marriage is to be conducted having been registered)

  • the Equality Act 2010 would be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple (or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose)

  • the bill will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples, or to opt-in to do so. Canon law - which bans the marriage of same-sex couples - will continue to apply. That means that it would require a change in both primary and Canon law before Church of England and Church in Wales would be able to opt in to conduct same - sex marriages

Maria Miller said:

“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.

“I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which allowed that.  European law already puts religious freedom beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But, it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt-in should be able to do so.

“We will continue to work with faith and other interested groups over the coming months on how best to implement our plans. I now look forward to a free, open and rigorous debate on the legislation, which we will introduce early next year.”

The plans have been announced following a 13 week consultation, which received a record 228,000 individual responses, as well as a number of petitions. More than half of individual respondents (53 per cent) favoured the introduction of equal marriage.

Other measures set out today include:

  • introducing a process that will allow civil partnerships (now numbering some 50,000) to be converted into a civil marriage

  • changing the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married - putting an end to the distressing process of having to end a marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued