Q&A: Key issues surrounding gay marriage proposals
Here is a summary of the main issues around the proposed introduction of same-sex marriage
What is the Government proposing? The legislation going through Parliament would allow couples who are the same sex to get married in England and Wales. Currently they only have the option of a civil partnership – which offers the same legal rights and protections on issues such as inheritance, pensions, and child maintenance. Supporters say gay relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as heterosexual ones.
Who objects to the changes, and why? Many religious groups believe that marriage is by definition a union between a man and a woman. The Church of England, the Anglican Church in Wales, the Catholic Church, and the Muslim Council of Britain have all expressed opposition. Jewish groups are divided on the subject, while others – such as the Quakers – are strongly in favour. There are fears that once legislation is in place gay couples could use the Human Rights Act to force religious organisations to marry them. The Church of England has a particular concern that its position as the Established Church obliges it to marry people on request.
What are the political divisions? Across the Commons, there is generally accepted to be a majority in favour of gay marriage. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are strongly supportive. Prime Minister David Cameron has been one of the driving forces behind the legislation, but he has allowed for divisions in his party by calling a free vote. Scores of Tory MPs have voiced opposition to the changes.
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What assurances have been provided for religious organisations? Culture Secretary Maria Miller has promised a “quadruple lock” for religious groups who oppose gay marriage. That would mean:
1. No religious organisation or individual minister being compelled to marry gay couples or allow such unions to happen on their premises
2. Making it unlawful for religious groups or their ministers to marry gay couples unless their religion’s governing body has expressly opted in to the idea
3. Amending the 2010 Equality Act so that no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers who refuse to marry a gay couple
4. The legislation explicitly stating that the Church of England and the Church in Wales cannot marry same-sex couples.
What is the situation in Scotland and Northern Ireland? The Scottish government announced its intention to bring in same-sex marriage in 2011. There are currently no plans for similar legislation in Northern Ireland.