Same-sex couples in England and Wales look set to be able to marry from next year after the government announced reforms would be made in early 2013.
More than 50 percent of UK residents support marriage equality, a recently released government consultation has found, in a knock back for opponents who say the government has no public support for the move.
A record 228,000 people responded to a 13-week consultation on gay marriage which began in March and found 53 percent of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage.
UK Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller (pictured) yesterday announced marriage equality legislation would be brought forward next year.
Religious institutions that do not wish to marry same-sex couples will not have to marry them.
The country’s Equality Act 2010 will be amended to ensure that no discrimination claim could be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry same-sex couples, or for their refusal to let their premises be used for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
The bill will also make it illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry gay couples, or to opt-in to do so, after their strong opposition to the reforms.
“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,” Miller said.
“Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone.”
There are reportedly already some 50,000 civil partnerships in the UK that will have to option to be converted to civil marriages once the new laws have been introduced.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said they were delighted about the government’s announcement and welcomed the promise to legalise same-sex marriage as warmly as the three previous occasions the same announcement was made.
“We’re particularly pleased that ministers have been persuaded to extend their original proposal in order to permit same-sex marriages for those religious denominations that wish to hold them,” Summerskill said.
Prominent conservative leaders including Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May and London Lord Mayor Boris Johnson have backed the push for gay marriage in the UK.
Cameron first declared his support for gay marriage in October last year which speaking at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester.
According to British media reports, some Tory MPs are furious by the party leadership’s commitment to marriage equality, including Tory MPs Peter Bone, Richard Drax and Sir Gerard Howarth.
Conservative MP David Davies also came under fire this week for claiming that most parents do not want their children to be gay and that plans to allow same-sex marriage were “barking mad”.
The government had previously promised to allow same-sex marriage before the next general election in 2015.