David Cameron has reaffirmed his commitment to same-sex marriage but said that the Government hasn’t communicated the changes very well to those who fear changes being imposed on churches.
Mr Cameron told the Sunday Telegraph: “I totally understand that this does raise strong emotions and strong opinions. I personally believe equal marriage is a right and it’s a good reform, a sensible reform and will be seen as another step along the path to giving proper equality to people who are gay.
“I also think broadly among the public it has a lot of support.
He added: “I think one of the things that we haven’t got across properly is [that] this is what is going to happen in the register office, this is about what the State does, this is the civil part of marriage, we’re not changing what happens in church, or synagogue, or mosque.”
The implication is that the only change the Government will force upon an institution is to registry offices, where civil marriages and civil partnerships are currently taking place. While the Government will not be changing what happens in churches or synagogues, it will allow religious institutions to make the changes themselves, in line with the proposals outlined by the Minister for Equalities, Maria Miller last year.
Mrs Miller said the proposals are designed to create watertight protections for religious organisations that do not want to conduct same-sex marriages, but will allow them to ‘opt in’ if they so chose.
“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. Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone. I feel strongly that, if a couple wish to show their love and commitment to each other, the state should not stand in their way”.
Mrs Miller continued: “I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which allowed that. European law already puts religious freedom beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But, it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt-in should be able to do so.
“We will continue to work with faith and other interested groups over the coming months on how best to implement our plans. I now look forward to a free, open and rigorous debate on the legislation, which we will introduce early next year.”
“But let me be absolutely 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, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it.
“That is absolutely clear in the legislation.
The Government plans to make it illegal for the Church of England and the Church of Wales to conduct same-sex marriages, although all other churches and religious institutions will be able to decide to opt-in to marry gay couples. The Church said it wasn’t consulted on the ban and the Archbishop of Wales has criticised the decision as a “step too far”.
While the Churches of England and Wales do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, 150 Anglican vicars have said that they wish to solemnise the marriages of gay couples.