Resistance to gay marriage Bill mounts

Sat, Jan 26, 2013, 00:00

British prime minister David Cameron’s plans to introduce gay marriage, which faces mounting opposition from Conservative MPs, will be subject to a free vote by MPs early next month.

The legislation was published yesterday, with culture secretary Maria Miller saying it would ensure equal treatment of same-sex couples.

Churches may opt to carry out such ceremonies, but none can be forced, though opponents argue that legal challenges are inevitable.

“Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country – one which has changed throughout our history, and continues to change,” said the culture secretary.

Rejecting the arguments of opponents, she said: “In opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society.”

Churches’ position

The unique legal position of the Church of England and the church in Wales – established churches under law – is protected, she said, because they will be barred from carrying out gay marriages.

Unlike other religious organisations, they are legally obliged to marry parishioners: “To protect them, therefore, the Bill makes clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples. Both have been clear that they do not currently wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples. If they choose to do so at a later date, they will of course be able to.”

Significant numbers of Conservative MPs will vote against the changes, leaving Mr Cameron vulnerable because he may need Labour votes to get it past.

Even Conservatives MPs who favour the move are unwilling to declare so publicly because their constituency associations are strongly opposed to the move.

There are divisions, too, in the cabinet. Defence secretary Philip Hammond wrote to a constituent last week questioning the protections being offered to the churches.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson, who now serves as environment secretary, and Welsh secretary David Jones are also against.

MPs will have a chance to declare their views on February 5th. One Conservative MP who is opposed, Peter Bone, said the public should be given the chance to vote, saying no party “put this forward in their manifesto.

“So people haven’t had the right to vote in an election on this and if we can’t do it that way maybe what we should be doing is have a referendum on it.” Saying he supported civil partnerships, he said: “It is just a view that I have, and Christians and others across the country, that a man and woman equals marriage, two people of the same sex don’t.”

Meanwhile, the UK Independence Party said exempting churches from carrying out ceremonies will end up before the European Court of Human Rights. “With only one example of case history directly relating to same-sex marriage, it is impossible to predict how future judgments would go,” it declared.