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With Royal Assent, gay marriage passes into law

19 July 2013


The icing on the cake: Ben & Jerry's and Stonewall joined forces to celebrate the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with a giant rainbow wedding cake

The icing on the cake: Ben & Jerry's and Stonewall joined forces to celebrate the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill with a giant r...

THE first same-sex weddings in England and Wales are set to take place next summer after the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill received Royal Assent on Wednesday.

The Bill passed its Third Reading in the House of Lords on Monday night without a formal vote, after a short debate during which supportive peers brandished pink carnations. The Bill then moved back to the House of Commons on Tuesday, where MPs decided not to oppose some minor amendments made by peers, including granting survivors of same-sex marriages the same pension benefits as those in heterosexual marriages.

The Bill specifies that it is illegal for any Church of England or Church in Wales minister to marry a same-sex couple ( News, 7 December). It would require a change in both primary law and canon law before the Churches could opt in to conducting same-sex marriages.

A number of amendments proposed by members of the Bishops' bench during the Bill's passage through the Lords were not adopted. These included an amendment tabled by the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Timothy Stevens, during the Bill's Report Stage, which referred to the right of faith schools to teach traditional beliefs about marriage, which was withdrawn before a vote.

Speaking during the Third Reading debate on Monday, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, who gave evidence during the Committee Stage of the Bill ( News, 15 February), said: "It is no secret that the majority of Christian Churches and other world faiths do not believe that same-sex marriage accords with their understanding of marriage itself.

"However, many of us, including on these Benches, welcome the social and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, and believe that our society is a better and healthier one for such recognition."

There will be a period of preparation to administer the new Act, as well as the possibility of secondary legislation. A timetable is expected in the autumn, but the first marriages are likely next summer.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement described the passing of the Bill as "a major step towards full equality for LGBT people", which would "have a very positive impact on society's continuing acceptance of same-sex relationships".

The chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, said: "The Bill's progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public's support for equality - though it's also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents."

A statement from the President and Vice-President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales said that the Bill's passing "heralds a profound social change. . . The new Act breaks the existing legal links between the institution of marriage and sexual complementarity. With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central.

"Along with others, we have expressed real concern about the deficiencies in the process by which this legislation came to Parliament, and the speed with which it has been rushed through. We are grateful particularly therefore to those Parliamentarians in both Houses who have sought to improve the Bill during its passage, so that it enshrines more effective protection for religious freedom."

The Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, Paul Parker, said: "This brings us tantalisingly close to legal recognition for same-sex marriages in our Quaker meetings. . . The voice of minority faith groups has been heard on this. We respect others who do not yet share our view. For Quakers, this is a matter of religious freedom."

The Coalition for Marriage, which has led the campaign against the Bill, issued a statement after the vote warning that "the Government's failure to pass sensible safeguards for people who believe in traditional marriage means there will inevitably be cases of people getting penalised for their beliefs."

The director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, Dr Dave Landrum, said: "The state has created a form of marriage that is no longer the lifelong union between a man and a woman for the procreation of children. . . It is now the task of the Church to model marriage to a society which has forgotten what it is."

The Chief Officer of the Unitarians, Derek McAuley, said: "We would congratulate members of all political parties in both Houses of Parliament who have steadfastly supported equal marriage. To our opponents we say that your fears will be found groundless. We are pleased that Parliament accepted our arguments that those faith groups who wished to host same sex marriages should be able to do so. Religious freedom meant the right to say yes as well as no." 


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