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Same-sex marriage gets overwhelming support in parliament

400 voted in favour of the bill despite Tory rebellion

6 February 2013

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MPs have voted overwhelmingly in support of marriage for same-sex couples last night after a long and heated debate.

A majority of 225 voted for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, while 175 voted against and 136 Tories rebelled and rejected the proposals.

Support for the bill was voiced during its five-hour reading from all parties, yet some MPs were vocal in their disapproval, with one proclaiming that in the garden of Eden it was “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.

Others who opposed the bill expressed concern that its “quadruple lock” would not be sufficient to protect religious institutions, who could in time be forced to conduct same-sex marriages.

The quadruple lock ensures 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 Church of England, however, asserted that this was “very unlikely”.

Job losses

There was further concern that religious registrars who did not wish to perform same-sex ceremonies would lose their jobs, as in the case of Lilian Ladele in relation to civil partnerships.

Nigel Shepherd, partner at Mills & Reeve, said that from a family perspective, the bill was “a moral and political issue rather than a strict legal one”.

“There are no differences to the rights of same-sex married couples when they split up and the dissolution of a civil partnership,” he commented.

The crux of the bill rested on giving people the right to call their relationship a marriage, Shepherd went on. He also said that it was “interesting” that heterosexual couples do not have the right to enter into a civil partnership.

“If marriage is an important institution… then it must be right to have that institution available to all.”

Resolution, of which Shepherd is chair, formally supported the bill.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, former barrister and chief executive of Christian Concern, said the vote may overturn “historic legislation” and a “common understanding of marriage”.

Williams warned that there could be similar problems to those that arose in relation to Catholic adoption agencies, some of which closed because of their views on marriage, she said.

She continued: “We have seen employees demoted for commenting privately about their Christian views of marriage. We have seen civil registrars penalised for their views on marriage. All this has happened before any change to marriage laws.”

Historic moment

Barrister Anya Palmer said that this was “a historic moment” in the fight for equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, but added that there is still much to be done to get the bill passed into law.

“The argument has been won, resoundingly,” she concluded.

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.

It will now proceed to committee stage before moving to the House of Lords.

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