Cameron faces revolt on same-sex marriage

 

Legislation to clear the way for gay marriage in the UK will include an opt-in for churches who favour the change, British prime minister David Cameron has said.

His declaration threatens a major revolt by Conservative MPs opposed to his plans when the issue will be decided in a free-vote in the House of Commons.

Saying he did not want gay couples “excluded from a great institution”, Mr Cameron insisted that churches opposed to gay marriage will not and cannot be forced to sanctify them.

However, the plans are more developed than they were when they were first produced last March, when it proposed civil ceremonies only.

A number of religious groups support gay marriage and have said they want to hold such ceremonies. Draft legislation expected by next Easter will offer a “lock”, as it was termed yesterday, that would give legal rights to churches to refuse to host gay weddings.

Ministers believe this would ensure they could not subsequently be forced to do so by equality laws, or by a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Catholic Church and the Church of England oppose the change, as did several hundred thousand people when they responded to a government consultation.

Rejecting the offer of guarantees for churches opposed, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said he believed the exemptions would be declared unlawful “within months” by the courts.

“Same-sex marriage Bill now exercises Tory grassroots as much as lack of progress on a European Union referendum. Number 10 should hear the alarms bells,” he said.