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Urgent Question: Same-sex Marriage in Churches

From Hansard

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

(Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Women and Equalities if she will make a statement on same-sex marriage in churches.

The Minister for Women and Equalities (Maria Miller):

Following the Government’s consultation, which looked at how to allow same-sex couples to marry, we will put forward to the House tomorrow our plans on how we intend to legislate. Our position remains that we firmly support marriage. It is one of the most important institutions we have in our country. The Government should not stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons for doing so, and I do not believe that being gay is one of them.
In respecting the rights of gay couples to have access to civil marriage, we also fully respect the rights of religious institutions when they state that they do not wish to carry out same-sex marriages. Freedom of religious belief is as important as equality. The views that people of faith hold should not be marginalised and should be fully respected. I would never introduce a Bill that encroaches on religious freedom or that could force religious organisations or religious ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.
The case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the rights as set out in the European convention on human rights put protection of religious belief in that matter beyond doubt. The Government’s legal position confirmed that, with appropriate legislative drafting, the chance of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible. I have therefore asked the Government’s lawyers to ensure that that is the case here.
There are long-standing plans to make a statement to the House, which will now be done tomorrow. It will set out the Government’s response to the consultation and outline our plans on how to take forward equal civil marriage, in line with our decision to legislate before the end of this Parliament. I believe that it will be vital to continue to work with religious organisations to ensure that effective safeguards are in place.

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