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‘Marriage of same-sex couples is lawful’

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill published

28 January 2013

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The government has published its much-discussed Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which makes it clear, in its first words that “marriage of same sex couples is lawful”.

However, section 1 of the bill goes on to say that no ‘canons’ or religious laws of the Church of England are unlawful if they make it clear that marriage is “the union of one man with one woman”.

Section 1(3) refers to the Submission of the Clergy Act 1533, introduced by Henry VIII as part of his campaign to marry Anne Boleyn, and which prevents the Church of England from making new laws without the monarch’s consent.

The government said its b ill contained a “quadruple lock” on same-sex marriages, in that the governing body of religious institutions must give explicit consent, it must take place in a place of worship, which must be registered for same-sex marriages and the individual minister must be willing to conduct the ceremony.

The bill amends the Equality Act 2010 to make clear that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Special case

Culture secretary Maria Miller said in her blog last month that the Church of England was a special case but it could propose changing its rules “of its own accord”, should its synod vote in favour.

“I believe that couples should not be excluded from marriage just because they love someone of the same sex,” Miller said today.

“In opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society.

“Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives. I have always been crystal clear that I would not put forward any legislation that did not provide protection for religious organisations.”

John Wadham, general counsel at the Equal and Human Rights Commission, welcomed publication of the bill.

“We agree that couples who wish to marry should be permitted to marry in church if their church also wishes to marry them,” he said.

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