British government launches consultation on same-sex marriage

March 15, 2012

(ENInews)--The British government on March 15 launched a 12-week
consultation in England and Wales that is widely expected to lead to the
legalization of same-sex marriage, despite strong opposition from the Roman
Catholic Church and conservative elements within the Church of England.

"Should two people who care deeply for each other, who love each other and who
want to spend the rest of their lives together be allowed to marry?" Home
Secretary Theresa May asked in The Times on March 15.

"That is the essential question behind the debate over the government's plans to
extend civil marriage to same sex couples," she said.

The coalition government led by Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) and
his deputy, Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) has made it clear that it wants to see
a law which allows gays and lesbians to marry before the next general election
in 2015. It is also supported by the opposition leader, Ed Milliband (New
Labour).

But the consultation will also include an option of retaining the status quo and
that has met with the approval of senior church figures, as well as a number of
Conservative MPs.

The plans for same-sex weddings only covers civil marriages for gay and lesbian
couples. Religious buildings would only be used where church, temple, mosque or
synagogue leaders wished to offer that ceremony.

If the reform goes ahead, it would only affect same-sex couples in England and
Wales, not Northern Ireland or Scotland (which make up the rest of the U.K.).
Last year, the Scottish Government held its own consultation process and
received more than 50,000 responses.

The decision to go ahead with the consultation was taken despite fierce
opposition from Christian church leaders. The Church of England on March 15  issued a statement saying that the Church of England/Archbishops' Council will
study the government's consultation on whether to redefine marriage and respond
in due course.

"The Church of England is committed to the traditional understanding of the
institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman," a statement
said.

On March 11, Roman Catholic priests read out a pastoral letter signed by two
leading clerics, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols and the
Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith.

It warned Britain's estimated four million Roman Catholics that "changing the
legal definition of marriage could be a profoundly radical step. It's
consequences should be taken seriously." The letter was read by priests from
2,500 pulpits in churches across England and Wales.

Earlier, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's estimated 500,000
Roman Catholics, described as "grotesque" plans for same-sex weddings. He said
if a law was passed making same-sex weddings legal it would "shame the United
Kingdom in the eyes of the world."

The Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the 77 million strong worldwide
Anglican Communion, Rowan Williams, has cautioned that the law should not be
used as a tool to bring about social changes, such as gay marriage.

But other religious groups, including Quakers, Reform Jews and Unitarians, have
welcomed it.

Several countries recognize same-sex marriage, including Argentine, Belgium,
Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway Portugal, Sweden, Spain, South Africa. In
the U.S., same-sex marriage is legal in eight states.

Civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom in 2005. They gave same
sex couple the same legal rights as married couples. Those in favor of same-sex
marriage say it would lift another barrier to equality and give gays and
lesbians the same rights as those enjoyed by heterosexual couples.