Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain writes for PinkNews on the joy he and his organisation feels now that the the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has been published.

Just three and a half years after Quakers agreed to seek a change in the law, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has received its first reading in the House of Commons. Draft legislation has been published today. This will mean same-sex marriages solemnised in a Quaker meeting will be legally recognised. Same-sex couples will, at last, be able to have the same experience as everyone else on their wedding day, and the same rights in law. Who would have thought such a change could come about so quickly?

Quakers take decisions seriously, and collectively, drawing on our experience of God in our lives. Listening to the experience of same-sex and opposite-sex couples’ lives together, we heard of the same joys and challenges, the same sharing, caring, trust and mutual support, the same love for one another. It is a natural extension of our belief that each person is equal in the sight of God, to recognise the equal value of all committed relationships.

For too long, same-sex couples who want an ordinary, private relationship, have had to be visible pioneers to get their relationship acknowledged. Why shouldn’t same-sex marriages enjoy the same recognition in our worshipping groups, our society and our laws as the marriages of opposite-sex couples? Quakers are ready for this, and believe our civil society is too. Some other churches and faiths are not, and Quakers do not wish to see our freedoms extended, for theirs to be eroded; this law will protect them well.

It is barely 10 years since the first civil partnership in the UK and only one since civil partnerships could take place in Quaker meeting houses, but civil partnership is what it says: civil. Marriage implies, for many, a spiritual commitment, made by a couple in the presence of God, and witnessed by their worshipping community. God is clearly marrying same-sex couples, so it is time for us to recognise them too. Marriage is, for many, not a mere civil contract but a religious act.

Quakers are used to being at the forefront of social change. Time and again in our history we have quietly spoken truth to power, stood out against inequalities and injustice. Often, that has been the work of a lifetime.

Today we are amazed that an earlier generation did not recognise that slavery was an injustice to our fellow human beings. We believe that two hundred years from now, those who follow us will be equally astounded to discover that in the twenty-first century we had still to recognise the equality of lesbian and gay people. Today that changed.

There is still some way to go, before the first marriage of a same-sex couple in their Quaker meeting, and further still before such marriages are accepted and understood by all as an enrichment of the fabric of our society. But today has been a significant milestone on that journey, and we rejoice.