Gay Marriage: PM Backs Weddings In Churches

Gay Marriage: PM Backs Weddings In Churches

David Cameron has revealed he will be voting in favour of legislation to allow gay weddings in churches.

The move threatens to put him on a collision course with some of his own Tory MPs, who insist marriage should only be allowed between a man and woman.

Mr Cameron has pledged to give MPs a free vote on the plans, meaning they will be able to vote against the Prime Minister's position without facing disciplinary action.

Ministers have promised to introduce a Bill before 2015 but the legislation may be fast-tracked to bring it before Parliament early next year.

Organisations that wish to host gay weddings will be allowed to opt in to the proposed new laws, which come in response to a public consultation by the Home Office during the summer.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller will also propose legal protection for organisations that reject gay marriage, such as the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, when she spells out the Government's plans next week.

Some religious groups, including Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, are in favour of gay marriage and are thought likely to apply to be allowed to stage ceremonies.

No religious organisations will be forced to conduct same sex weddings under the proposals.

Speaking on a visit to the West Midlands, Mr Cameron said: "I'm in favour of gay marriage because I'm a supporter of marriage and I don't want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.

"But let me be absolutely and 100% clear, if there is any church, or any synagogue, or any mosque that doesn't want to have a gay marriage, it will not, it absolutely must not be forced to hold it. That is absolutely clear in the legislation.

"Also let me make clear this is a free vote for Members of Parliament, but personally I will be supporting it."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg added: "It's very important to remember that in our plans we're not going to force any church or any religious denomination to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies if they don't want to but I do think it's time that we allow any couple, no matter who they are, to marry if that's what they want to do."

The Church of England has previously warned such a move would effectively result in the definition of marriage being rewritten by Parliament.

It has said the proposals would lead to a clash between its law - that marriage is between a man and a woman - and that of Parliament.

A Government spokesman said: "The Government is committed to bringing equal civil marriage forward and the consultation results will be announced next week.

"We are very clear that religious organisations must be protected and that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

"The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion and we will additionally bring in very strong legal locks to ensure the protection is watertight."

Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said: "Quakers have been discussing sexuality for 50 years and in 2009 that led us to seek a change in the law so that all marriages in Quaker meeting houses, of whatever sex, can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and recognised as legally valid, without further process.

"We are waiting for the law to catch up. For Quakers, this is an issue of religious freedom and we don't seek to impose this on others."

Benjamin Cohen, of Out4Marriage, which has been campaigning in favour of same-sex weddings, said: "We're delighted to hear that the Government will be legislating to introduce full equal marriage including same-sex marriages solemnised by religious ministers.

"Legislation must give individual religious organisations the freedom to decide for themselves whether to hold same-sex marriages. None should be forced to, but those that wish to must be given the rights to do so."

Colin Hart, campaign director for the Coalition For Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, described the move as "deeply disappointing and regrettable".

"The suggestion that by creating an 'opt-in system' you somehow prevent churches, mosques and synagogues being sued is risible. This is now made much more likely," he said.

"Any legislation that the PM proposes will be subject to the European courts, who, according to legal experts, will find against the Government and those religious institutions who end up in the dock. So the PM is writing a cheque that he knows will bounce."