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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 4
British parliament to debate marriage equality bill
Section One
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British parliament to debate marriage equality bill

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The marriage equality bill sponsored by Britain's Conservative government was officially introduced in Parliament by Culture Secretary Maria Miller on January 24. The measure will be debated on February 5.

Prime Minister David Cameron is committed to passing the legislation, and it has the support of both the allied Liberal Democratic and opposition Labor Party leadership.

Liberal religious groups like the Quakers, Unitarians, and some Jewish congregations also support equality, but the Church of England and Britain's Roman Catholic Church are formally opposed.

RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION Miller told Parliament in December that no religious group 'will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.' In fact, the government's bill actually forbids religious organizations from performing same-sex marriages unless they specifically opt in to the system.

Britain's Equality Act of 2010, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, will be amended to ensure that discrimination claims cannot be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers who refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Miller also promised that teachers, 'particularly in faith schools, will be able to continue to describe their belief that marriage is between a man and woman whilst acknowledging and acting within the new legislative position which enables same sex-couples to get married.'

Labor Party sources said the broad religious exemption was 'disappointing' but indicated they would still vote for the bill.

CONSERVATIVES DIVIDED According to the London Telegraph, the measure is not universally popular in Cameron's Conservative Party, however. Some 130 of the 303 Conservative members of Parliament may vote against equality.

In response, 19 senior Conservatives, including the highly popular Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, formed a 'Freedom to Marry' group to promote the government's legislation.

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, the group said that 'marriage should be open to all, regardless of sexuality.'

'We recognize that civil partnerships were an important step forward in giving legal recognition to same sex couples. But civil partnerships are not marriages, which express a particular and universally understood commitment.'

SCOTLAND ON BOARD The government of Scotland, which is internally self-governing, has also published draft legislation to introduce same-sex marriage.

Cameron began his campaign for a marriage equality law with a public 'consultation' in which the government solicited comments from all interested parties. The consultation received some 228,000 submissions.

In response to some concerns, the government said it would not change the legal definitions of adultery or non-consummation of a marriage, and would not allow either to be cited as grounds for divorce - unless the adultery was with someone of the opposite sex.

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