Law change could see gay couples marry in church

The government is looking to change laws in England and Wales to enable gay couples to marry in places of worship

Gay and lesbian couples could soon win the right to marry in church if a change in marriage law goes ahead.

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone has announced that the government intends to consult how the marriage laws in England and Wales can be reformed.

Despite strong opposition from religious groups, she added that the Home Office is lifting the prohibition on civil partnership ceremonies being held in religious places of worship.

‘Over the last few months I have spoken to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and campaign groups and it became clear there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships,’ says Featherstone.

‘We are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.’

The removal of the ban on civil partnerships in religious premises is not compulsory but was agreed in both houses of parliament in the Equality Act 2010, before the coalition government came to power.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says the proposals were ‘a significant advance for gay and religious freedom’.

‘It was petty and authoritarian to ban faith organisations like the Quakers from holding civil partnership ceremonies, when they clearly expressed a wish to do so,’ he says.

‘The old restrictions forced religious bodies to discriminate against same-sex couples, even when they didn’t want to.’

However, the Church of England believe that vicars should not provide services of blessing for those who register civil partnerships.

A spokesperson says it could lead to inconsistencies with civil marriage and to confusion for churches and faiths.

But the Rev Stephen Coles, a gay vicar from St Thomas’s, Finsbury Park, north London, says: ‘I also think the number in the church who are opposed is smaller than people think – but they are very noisy.’

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