The UK government will finally publish its long-awaited gay marriage bill today which, if passed, will allow gay couples to marry but also let religious groups opt out.
The date for a debate on the proposed legislation has been set for February 5.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller said the legislation not only extends marriage equality to same-sex couples but also recognises “that some churches won’t want to participate in same-sex marriages.
“We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn’t appropriate for their particular beliefs. We know that there are churches who do want to take part in same-sex marriages, so we have made sure that there are provisions there so they can,” she said.
Miller also allayed fears that teachers could be fired for not supporting same-sex marriage in the classroom.
“Look, teachers are able to and entitled to express their views about same-sex marriage and there’s no requirement at all for them to promote it but, obviously, we wouldn’t expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anybody,” she said.
Stonewall, the British LGBT rights group, has urged equal marriage supporters to contact their MPs to express their views. While a poll in December found that 73 per cent of people in Britain support equal marriage, it warned supporters against complacency and urged straight people to join the campaign for equality too.
“Sadly the minority of people who oppose equal marriage consistently use mistruths and smears to argue against it,” said Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill. “Supporters of this modest measure mustn’t let a vocal minority block equality. People must write to, tweet, email or call their MPs to ask them for their support before the Bill’s Second Reading debate on 5 February.
“We need straight people with lesbian, gay or bisexual friends or relatives to stand up for their rights too. Equality benefits everyone, which is why we need every supporter to press MPs to vote for it. Our message is simple. Speak now, or forever hold your peace,” asserted Summerskill.
Veteran LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell has welcomed the legislation but condemned the fact it also retains the ongoing exclusion of heterosexual couples from civil partnerships.
“Despite proclaiming that the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage is driven by the principle of equality, the government’s forthcoming legislation will retain the inequality of the current legal ban on heterosexual civil partnerships,” said Tachell.
“This will mean that for the first time in British law gay couples will have legal privileges over heterosexual couples,” he added.
Civil partnerships between same-sex couples were introduced in the UK in 2005. Prime Minister David Cameron is a strong supporter of same-sex civil marriages being legalised.