The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday 5 February,
BBC NEWS Report
24 January 2013 Last updated at 16:12 GMT
MPs are set to get their first chance to vote on plans to allow same-sex marriages in England and Wales.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will be debated in Parliament on Tuesday 5 February, the leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley has announced.
The bill will allow same-sex marriage and let religious organisations which want to, to offer them, the culture department says.
The plans have divided the Conservative Party – its MPs will get a free vote.
Labour and the Lib Dems back the proposals to legalise same-sex marriage, but Labour said the exemption for the established Church was “disappointing”.
The Church of England and Roman Catholics, among other denominations, have voiced opposition to the plans and are expected to oppose the bill, even with its caveats.
But some religious groups, including Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism, are in favour.
She said the legislation – which will published on Friday ahead of the bill’s second reading – would include a “quadruple lock” to protect religious freedom.
The bill is set to specifically exclude the Church of England and Church in Wales to avoid a clash between Canon Law – which defines marriage as that between a man and a woman – and UK civil law.
But a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that if the Church of England did want to opt-in to offering same-sex marriages it could, saying a process for doing so was to be set out in the bill.
A public consultation on plans for same-sex marriage received 228,000 submissions.
In its response to the consultation the government says it has no plans to change the definition of adultery or non-consummation of a marriage – which means neither could be cited as grounds for divorce in a same-sex marriage, unless the adultery was with someone of the opposite sex.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller outlining the government’s approach last month
They also dismiss the fear that the terms “husband” and “wife” could be removed as a result of same sex marriages.
They also say that teachers “particularly in faith schools will be able to continue to describe their belief that marriage is between a man and woman whilst acknowledging and acting within the new legislative position which enables same sex-couples to get married”.
The Scottish Government has published proposed legislation of its own to introduce gay marriage.
Under the plans, religious and faith groups would need to “opt in” to perform same-sex marriages.
The first reading of the ‘Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill’ has already taken place in the House of Commons – on Thursday – and is due to be read a second time on Friday 25th January. The first debate on the Bill will occur on Tuesday, 5th February.
Despite the threat of Same-Sex Marriage being ‘out of bounds’ in the Church of England – because of the C.of E.’s stated objection to Gay Marriage – it seems possible that the Church might (later) opt into the process, but only if it were to be authorised to do so by a meeting of the General Synod.
Whatever the Churches decide, however – and it is almost certain the Roman Catholic Church, which has mounted a concerted campaign of opposition to the Bill, even with its caveat allowing Churches to opt out of Gay Marriage, will seek exemption if the Bill is passed – the Government has explicitly provided for a conscience clause which will allow Churches to either deny or access the facility, according to their religious beliefs.
The fact that many members of the Anglican Church are actually in favour of Same-Sex Marriage will probably not deter the Church of England from opting out of facilitating it, on the grounds that, currently, Canon Law specifically limits the Sacrament of Marriage to heterosexual couples – even if they do not have the capacity or intention to procreate, which is one of the factors presented as a barrier to Same-Sex Marriage.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand