U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government will set out plans tomorrow to allow churches to conduct same-sex marriages.
Cameron acknowledged today that there are divisions within his Conservative Party over the issue. Most church groups oppose his aim of allowing gay marriages, as opposed to civil partnerships, which were introduced under the previous Labour government.
“This is a matter for Parliament,” Cameron told a journalists’ lunch in London. “We just have to be grown up and accept that, in a modern political party, sometimes you will have issues of conscience where people will vote in different ways.”
Cameron said that allowing churches to conduct the ceremonies would make it easier to protect those that don’t from challenges under anti-discrimination laws.
“I would never introduce a bill that encroaches on religious freedom,” Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who’s responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament, told lawmakers today. She told members of Parliament she would give details of the bill in a statement in the House of Commons tomorrow.
The government opened a public consultation on same-sex marriage on March 15 that attracted 280,000 responses, a record for any such consultation. Conservative lawmaker David Burrowes told Miller that if the views of those opposing a change in the definition of marriage were ignored, “the consultation might be in danger of being seen as a sham.”
The Church of England said Dec. 7 that Cameron will require an “overwhelming mandate” to justify going ahead with the plan, given the government has never made it a key policy objective.
“We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone by excluding the fundamental complementarity of men and women from the social and legal definition of marriage,” it said in a statement.
Conservative lawmakers have raised concerns that places of worship that decide not to hold same-sex marriages could be challenged in court.