February 17, 2011
Gay marriage consultation causes media storm
Lynne Featherstone has announced a government consultation that will “formally look at what steps can be taken” to address the differences between marriage and civil partnership. The equality minister’s statement has led to speculation over the future of both institutions.
Last weekend, a leak revealed government plans to legalise civil partnerships in religious venues. The new announcement does not confirm whether or not further reform will also take place.
Featherstone said: “Over the last few months I have spoken to a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and campaign groups and it became clear there is a real desire to address the differences between civil marriage and civil partnerships. We are going to be the first British government to formally look at what steps can be taken to address this.”
Journalists and commentators have scrambled to interpret the government’s intentions. Many predict that new laws will lead to equal marriage rights for gay couples and heterosexual civil partnerships.
The government has also confirmed plans to legalise civil partnership in religious venues in England and Wales. The home secretary, Theresa May, has confirmed that religious groups will not be forced to hold such ceremonies. “For those who wish to do so this is an important step forward,” she added.
May’s clarification has not reassured religious groups that anticipate being forced into marrying gay couples. “When it comes to equality legislation, permission often turns rapidly into coercion,” claimed a joint press release from a number of organisations, including Affinity, The Christian Institute, and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches.
However, the plans have been welcomed by religious groups that wish to marry gay couples. Michael Hutchinson of the Quakers explained: “Our religious experience teaches us to seek a change in the law so that same-sex marriages can be celebrated, witnessed and reported to the state in the same way as heterosexual marriages.”
Stonewall CEO Ben Summerskill yesterday said that “if there’s a genuine commitment to making progress in this area, it is painfully slow”. Stonewall only announced its own support for full marriage equality in October 2010.
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