The office of Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, has blamed a typographical error for messages he sent to constituents which appear to say religious institutions will be allowed to marry gay couples under government plans.
PinkNews.co.uk was approached by readers in his South West Surrey constituency who welcomed the culture secretary’s commitment to marriage equality but were struck by an apparent departure from government policy.
Responding to enquiries about his position, Mr Hunt said it was “as a Christian” that he believed equal marriage laws were “intrinsically right” and suggested religious institutions would be able to marry gay couples under government plans.
The Home Office is currently running a public consultation on how to implement marriage equality between gay and straight couples but it has so far been explicit that does not propose to allow religious faiths to marry gay couples, even if they wish to.
Gay constituents welcomed Mr Hunt’s support when he wrote: “For me as a Christian allowing people to express lifelong commitment through marriage – whether they are same sex or different – is intrinsically right.”
But questions were raised when the culture secretary added: “At the same time you are correct in that we will be giving religious institutions the choice to perform same sex marriages – we will not be forcing anyone to act against their conscience.”
Stewart Monk, one of two constituents who contacted PinkNews.co.uk after receiving this response, said: “The fact that one of the Government’s own Ministers has interpreted the legislation wrongly to assume that some religions can perform ceremonies shows how much misinformation there is about this Bill.”
The Quakers in Britain, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism have called on the government to allow them to perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples and to respect the choice of faiths who do not wish to do the same.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper wrote on PinkNews.co.uk in March that the government should open up its proposals to allow for such a system.
Mr Hunt’s office confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that the email contained a ‘typo’ and should have referred only to civil same-sex marriages, adding that Mr Hunt understood the government’s proposals and was fully in support of civil marriage equality.
Of his MP, Mr Monk added: “It is positive that while Mr Hunt represents one of the largest Tory majorities in the country he is progressive in his support of gay equality. That is a big step forward in traditional Conservative thinking.”
As shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Mr Hunt gave his support to the 2008 GFest LGBT arts festival. In 2009, beer bottles were thrown at Mr Hunt, then shadow culture secretary, when he addressed a pride event in London.
Mr Hunt has been questioned at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards this week over his dealing with News Corp and its bid to take control of BSkyB and has faced calls from Labour to resign.