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UK Marriage Bill to be Published Today

Late last year I wrote about the changes in marriage laws the UK were considering, Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s historic announcement relieved four main points:

Equal marriage – Same sex couples will be able to marry in civil ceremonies. Religious organisations that wish to conduct marriage for same-sex couples will be able to do so, if they have ‘opted in’

Protection for religions - A series of protections will be built in to primary legislation for those religious organisations and ministers who do not wish to marry same-sex couples

Civil partnerships - will be retained for same-sex couples only. Couples who wish to convert their civil partnership to a marriage will be able to do so

Changing Gender – The law will be changed to allow individuals to change their legal gender without first having to end their marriage

The Bill was published today with Ms Miller saying it will ensure the equal treatment, under the law, of same sex couples.  The publication of the Bill is a significant step as many Conservative MPs are not in favour of same sex marriage rights.  In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she said

We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry and that is exactly what the proposals being brought forward today do.

But it is about making sure that not only do we recognise the rights of same-sex couples in civil life, but we also recognise 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.

The protection for religious groups who wish to discriminate against couples has been termed a “quadruple lock”, this does the following

• Ensures that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

• Provides an opt-in system for religious organisation who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.

• Amends the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

• Ensures that legislation will not affect the canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either church wanted to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and a change to canon law.

However Ms Millers has indicated that

I don’t think it is for any government to tell the Church of England what they do when it comes to something which is so central to religious belief

So the controversy in the House of Commons rages on, MPs will begin discussing this issue again on February 5th.

You can view the Bill here

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