The Government have defended plans to allow gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales to get married, thereby changing the status of civil ceremonies. This is despite mounting opposition from the Church of England and some members of the Conservative party. Leading Anglicans have said that the government proposal could make the church stop carrying out legal weddings and ‘take a fundamental step towards separating the church from the state.’
The consultation on gay marriage generated what is believed to be the biggest response for a Home Office proposal ever. Downing Street said they were ‘committed to legislate by 2015 – in this parliament.’ Civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give same- sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, but the law does not allow these partnerships to be referred to as marriages.
Julie-Ann Harris, Family Solicitor, says ”The Church of England believes that plans to exempt religious organisations from performing gay marriages would be unlikely to survive legal challenges in English and European courts.” Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said that she believes ministers can put safeguards in place to protect the concerns expressed by religious groups.
Downing Street said that the government welcomed the submission by the Church of England and would consider it carefully. A spokesman said that the consultation paper ‘makes it very clear that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages as a result of our proposals, and that legal advice had been sought by government on the likelihood of a challenge by the European court before drawing up the proposals.’
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