The opening up of marriage to same-sex couples took a step forward today as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was published.
The Bill will enable same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies while protecting religious organisations that do not wish to conduct marriage same-sex ceremonies. It will also protect those religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples from successful legal challenge.
The Government reiterated its ‘quadruple lock' to protect religious organisations, or individual ministers of religion, from being forced to conduct same-sex marriages.
"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 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.
Other measures in the Bill include enabling civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage and enabling married individuals wishing to change their legal gender to do so without having to end their marriage.