Marina Miller, Minister for Equalities, this afternoon announced that the Government is pushing ahead with changes to laws to allow same-sex couples to marry in England, but will include ‘lock-outs’ for the Church of England and other religious organisations opposed to the changes.
Miller noted that the consultation on changes was not about whether, but how, the changes would be introduced. 228,000 people responded to the consultation. She noted that in each century parliament has legislated to keep marriage ‘relevant and meaningful’, and now was the time to allow same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals.
Religious organisations will be allowed to perform marriages if they wish, but will not be obliged to. However, the Church of England and the Church of Wales will specifically be banned from performing the marriage, and if a minister breaks these rules and performs a marriage, it will not be considered valid. A ‘quadruple lock’ will be put in place to ensure that no legal challenge can be brought against the Church. These locks include a declaration on the face of the bill saying no religious organisation or minister can be forced to marry a gay couple, or to permit a gay wedding on their premises. Equalities legislation will be amended to make this clear. The bill will also say that same sex couples cannot be married in a church unless that religious organisation has opted in to the system.
Miller expects the Bill to be launched in January 2013, and be law within a year.