Same-sex couples have moved a step closer to the right to marry in a civil ceremony.
The Home Office has launched a consultation on how to allow everyone to have a civil marriage.
People will be able to have their say on the proposed changes by completing the online survey.
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said: “I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender.
“Today is a hugely important step as we consider how to lift the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples.
“This is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms.
“Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone.”
Under current law same-sex couples can have a civil partnership but not a civil marriage. The government wants to make the right to marry in civil premises, like a register office or hotel, available to everyone.
- The proposal is to remove the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage
- The consultation will look at civil marriage only i.e. only civil marriage ceremonies in a register office or other approved premises (like a hotel)
- No changes are proposed to religious marriages. This will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman
- Not looking at civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples
- The consultation will propose that civil partnerships are retained as an option for same-sex couples, once civil marriage is opened up
- Civil partnership registrations on religious premises will continue as is currently possible i.e. on a voluntary basis for faith groups and with no religious content
- Individuals will, for the first time, be able legally to change their gender without having to end their marriage.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
As recently as 2010 Lord Tebbit stated: “We should be utterly, completely and absolutely clear that a civil partnership is not a marriage, cannot be a marriage, never will be a marriage and should be treated entirely separately from marriage.”
By insisting that marriage and civil partnerships must be kept separate and distinct opponents of equality regrettably still perpetuate the offensive notion, even if inadvertently, that relationships between same-sex people are not as stable, rich or valid as those between heterosexual couples. It is clear that these views impact negatively on public attitudes towards gay people themselves.
Stonewall has responded in detail to the Government’s consultation on its intention to extend the legal form of marriage to same-sex couples.
Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: “We’re pleased that the consultation process has finally started and are delighted to submit Stonewall’s full response. Stonewall supports the Government’s plans to make this modest change to extend the legal form of marriage.
“Leading clerics and some political figures have, in the past three weeks alone, compared equality for gay people with slavery, child abuse, polygamy and bestiality. That’s why it’s critical that the calm voices of lesbian and gay people are heard in this debate too.
“Ministers have pledged that same-sex couples will be able to marry in Britain by 2015. We trust that, given this commitment, these proposals will be included in the Queen’s Speech in May.”
Stonewall is urging all supporters of equal marriage to make their voices heard by responding to the consultation themselves before it closes on 14 June 2012.
Details of how to respond to the Government consultation and Stonewall’s full response can be found at www.stonewall.org.uk/marriage
The Most Rev Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Southwark and one of the most senior Roman Catholics in the country, said the state must not attempt to redefine marriage.
“Whilst we welcome the Prime Minister’s support of marriage, family life and especially the care of children, the proposed redefinition of marriage cannot be right,” he said.
“Marriage by its very nature is between a man and a woman and it is the essential foundation of family life. The state should uphold this common understanding of marriage rather than attempting to change its meaning.”
The Church of England is also likely to oppose the reforms. In response to the Prime Minister’s speech, a spokesman for the Church of England said: “The Church’s view remains of marriage as the life-long union between a man and a woman.”
Andrea Williams, director of Christian Concern, said Prime Minister’s attempt to redefine marriage would have “catastrophic consequences” for society. The complementary union of a man and a woman in marriage is where love, life, stability and the full flourishing of society begins. He ignores this fundamental principle at his peril.”
A spokesman for OutREACH Cumbria said on the issue: “OutREACH Cumbria does not have a position as such on same-sex marriages. We cannot justify our neutral position by taking a stance on this issue.
“Lesbians and gay men will have their own opinions and views about ‘gay marriage’ as it is becoming known.
“Civil Partnership legislation has given lesbians and gay men the same legal rights as for married couples. The equality campaigns over the past 20 years or so, sought to give lesbians and gay men the legal framework to have their same-sex relationships recognised by the state. The aims were many, mortgages, life insurance next-of-kin rights, the right to adopt children as a couple
“The debate at this time is about the term marriage, its religious context and the position of the state.
“Individual gay couples may wish to have service, because of their own religious belief and so a Church Wedding is their choice ( or would be of the government gets its way).
“For other gay couples, the Registry Office, or licenced location will be their choice (as now).
“OutREACH Cumbria supports the rights of LGBT people if the rights are challenged or if the rights of LGBT people were to be eroded, OutREACH Cumbria would along with other LGBT groups nationally as our right as an independent organisation, advocate the voice of the LGBT community.
“But I add that this would be done with much discussion with our community and any response would need to reflect these discussions.
“Individual lesbians and gay men have the right to form healthy relationships, to make the ultimate committment to one another and to one another’s families.
“Should same sex marriage become a reality, for those lesbians and gay men in relationships then it will be another right to be recognised equally. How the heterosexual context of a prescriptive religious contract sits with many gay people will be another interesting debate.”
John Stevenson, Conservative MP for Carlisle said he supports civil partnerships but doesn’t think there is any need for further legislation, John said: “I am fully supportive of the legislation surrounding civil partnerships, which gives same-sex couples the full legal rights of a married couple. This legislation has clearly been a success.
“Further legislation also allows for same-sex civil partnerships to take place in a church, subject to the church’s agreement.
“The proposed legislation is something which I think is unnecessary.”
Tony Begg, 27 from Carlisle doesn’t agree with John Stevenson and has strong views of his own, he says: “I have known many individuals who already refer to civil partnerships as marriage. This isn’t just the individuals who are going through the ceremony but when individuals refer to it. They don’t say they’re going to a civil ceremony they say they’re going to a wedding and many aspects of the wedding are merely replicated for these events anyways. If the community as a whole has already started to use marriage synonymously with civil unions anyway, what difference does a phrase make?
“Legislation currently prevents two men getting married irrespective of whether a religious denomination has no issue with gay marriages per sai. Surely the arguments surrounding the issue of the state not intervening within this institution in light of this is moot?
“Given the current divorce rate and how marriage has changed significantly over the last hundred years. Isn’t it cynical to think that this relatively small change in the law will affect an institution which has already demonstrated a resilience in the face of changes within society.
“This law will only affect secular weddings. Exactly how does the rights of a church have any baring on this change? Do we concede that the church has exclusive use of the term. If so does that affect other religions?”
Richard from Cumbria says: “As a gay man in a Civil Partnership, I have a different take on the subject. Having been married (yes, to a woman), I have seen the issue from two sides.
“My wife was a Catholic, I was brought up C of E, attending church as a child, including Sunday School. The usual round of Christenings, Marriages and Funerals supported my teenage years, as I grew as a person matured in years and accepting my sexual orientation, the church and I moved further apart.
“As an active gay rights campaigner, I began to ask myself about politics and religion, where the two become one, in the history of our society.
“For me my sexuality was forbidden, was an illness a disease. The very notion that homosexuality was acceptable threatened the self professed religious men who controlled all through writings that laid out rules, rules that kept the masses down. The same men who authorised witch hunts, murdered any one who put science above the existence of a higher being, and who sent millions to their deaths in wars, all in the name.
“Professionally and personally I have seen and heard first hand, the experiences of gay men and women, who’s lives have been shattered, and families torn apart. I have spent time with men fleeing religious persecution and the threat of death because they were homosexual.
“I have tried to understand all of this, to reconcile my sexuality and my lifestyle with religion. I personally have no faith in a system of rules which preclude another human from basic rights, let alone rights that are equal to all.
“For this reason, I do not, nor did I wish to marry my same-sex partner! I am happy (after decades of campaigning) that we are in a committed relationship, one that is recognised in law, that gives my partner and I the same rights, and the same responsibilities as a the ceremony of marriage does for heterosexuals.
“For my part I never campaigned for gay marriage. I wanted something which gave gay couples the right to make a committment in a service or ceremony that supported through law those rights for which we fought long to achieve.”
Lee Martin-White, 33 from Workington has been in a civil partnership for 16 months says: “Gay marriage isn’t about restricting family values. It’s about allowing everyone to be happy and same rights.”
Ben is 18 and lives in West Cumbria and is in a steady relationship he thinks: “Everyone is equal so gay marriage is no different to a ‘normal’ one, if it’s love, who has the right to stop you? No one should have that right.”
Jamie Reed the Labour MP for Copeland says he is fully supportive of the change, Jamie said: “I believe in equality. I believe in same-sex marriages.
“As someone who believes in equality and as someone who believes that all human beings are born equal. I can neither understand or accept discrimination. This can’t be spun or finessed, it can’t be subject to nuance and it can’t be hidden from agreement illustrates belief in equality.”
Tim Farron Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale says he fully supports equality, commenting on the consultation Tim said: “One of our fundamental values as a party is our firm belief in equality.
“We have always stood for individual liberty and the right to choose how we lead our lives. That’s why we came into being in the 19th century to protect the rights of religious minorities, it’s why we led the support for equality for women and why we decided before any other major party that civil marriage should be open to same-sex couples equally.”
Rory Stewart the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border was asked for his views, however he declined to comment.
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