LONDON – Championing a cause eschewed by fellow conservatives elsewhere, the British government said Tuesday that it will sponsor a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry, including in churches, synagogues and mosques that look favorably on such unions.
Religious organizations against the idea would be legally protected from having to wed gays and lesbians, and the Church of England, as the nation’s established church, would specifically be barred. But civil marriage would be available to all couples under the new proposal.
“For some, this is contentious, a radical reform or, indeed, a reform too far,” said Maria Miller, the Conservative Party government minister who unveiled the plan in Parliament. “But the historical facts show that, over the generations, marriage has had a long history of evolution. … For me, extending marriage to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, this vital institution.”
The bill is likely to be introduced next month and voted on sometime later in the new year. Although church groups and some lawmakers have spoken out vehemently against opening up marriage to same-sex couples, polls show that a majority of Britons support the idea, and the legislation is almost certain to pass.
If so, Britain would become the latest European country to give gay and lesbian residents the right to get hitched. Marriage for same-sex couples is already possible in the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as in the predominantly Roman Catholic nations of Spain and Portugal. Lawmakers in France are expected to approve a bill authorizing gay marriage in the coming months.