U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said gay couples would be allowed to marry in places of worship under legislation to be introduced next week.
Cameron said he will vote for the change in the law, although he will not force his Conservative Party lawmakers to do the same. U.K. governments sometimes allow so-called free votes on matters of conscience.
“I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution,” Cameron said in a broadcast interview today. “This is a free vote for members of Parliament, but personally I will be supporting it.”
The bill, which is backed by Quakers, Unitarians and some branches of Liberal Judaism, would allow places of worship to opt to hold ceremonies, Cameron said. Those that choose not to will be protected by law.
“Let me be absolutely 100 percent clear,” Cameron said. “If there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage, it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it.”
The government opened a consultation on same-sex marriage on March 15 that attracted 280,000 responses, a record for any such consultation. It is due to give its response next week.
The Church of England said 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 the courts.
“I am concerned, and constituents and local clergy have also expressed the concern that, by redefining marriage, we may expose churches and other religious institutions to legal challenge and force them to marry gay couples under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010,” Tory lawmaker Dominic Raab told the House of Commons on April 19.
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