By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
LONDON, United Kingdom – On Friday, the British government created a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Marriage Bill extends marriage to gay couples; however, also prevents clergy in the Church of England from having to carry out the ceremonies.
Since 2005, gay couples in Britain were permitted to form civil partnerships, which give them the same legal protection, adoption and inheritance rights as heterosexual married partners. However, their partnerships lacked the label of marriage.
The new bill will allow couples who previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage, while also including specific provisions that intend to satisfy religious opponents of same-sex unions while simultaneously stopping religious leaders from criticizing the bill.
Equalities Minister, Maria Miller, stated, “We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry and that is exactly what the proposals being brought forward today do.”
However, she continued, “We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn’t appropriate for their particular beliefs. We know that there are churches who do want to take part in same-sex marriages, so we have made sure that there are provisions there so they can.”
Additionally, Maria Miller rejected claims that teachers could face disciplinary action if they refuse to “promote” gay marriage in schools. She says, “Teachers are able to, and entitled to, express their views about same-sex marriage and there is no requirement at all for them to promote it. But obviously we wouldn’t expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anything.”
She concluded, “Of absolutely paramount importance to me is that when it comes to civil society, we should be treating people equally and fairly and the measures we are putting forward today are doing that.”
The Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, stated his opposition; marriage should continue to be “a union between one man and one woman. It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been part of the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.” The “absence of an overwhelming public consensus for change ought at least to give pause for thought.”
While some traditionalist Conservative lawmakers say they will vote against it, conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, many members of his Cabinet, and most Liberal Democrat and Labour lawmakers support the new marriage bill.
The first debate and vote are scheduled for Feb 5.
For further information, please see:
Associated Press – Britain Introduces Same-Sex Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013
BBC News – Gay marriages: Government Publishes Legislation – 25 January 2013
Irish Examiner – British Govt Publishes Gay Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013
USA Today – Britain Considers Same-Sex Marriage Bill – 25 January 2013