LONDON — The lower chamber of the British parliament, the House of Commons, on Tuesday evening gave final approval to a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales.
The measure, first approved in Commons on May 21, was approved by the upper chamber, the House of Lords on Monday. The bill returned to Commons for approval of amendments added by the Lords.
The bill will enable gay couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales. It also will allow couples who had previously entered into a civil partnership to convert their relationship to a marriage.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told supporter celebrating outside Parliament that the new law would ensure LGBT people felt “recognized and valued, not excluded.”
“Extending marriage to same sex couples changes nothing in respect of freedom of speech … this is why further changes to the law are not necessary and could indeed be harmful, by casting doubts where non currently exist,” Clegg said, noting that the bill was a mark of “the kind of open, modern, tolerant and diverse society we want Britain to be in the 21st Century.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage warned that the Government’s backing of the bill would “come back to bite” British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Opposition to the bill was particularly vocal by the right of the ruling Conservative (Tory) Party and some religious leaders who decried the measure, saying that it would intrude on religious freedoms in the United Kingdom.
Conservative MP, David Burrowes said the bill “encroaches on religious liberty,” while colleague Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot, called it a “disgrace” and “offending large swathes of the conservative party.”
Colin Hart of The Coalition for Marriage, an interfaith anti-gay marriage campaign group, said Cameron “needs to remember that the Coalition for Marriage has nearly 700,000 supporters, nearly six times the number of members of the Conservative Party.”
“They are just ordinary men and women, not part of the ruling elite. They are passionate, motivated and determined to fight on against a law that renders terms like husband and wife meaningless and threatens one of the foundations of the institution of marriage: fidelity and faithfulness,” he said.
UK Culture Minister Maria Miller, who led the fight for passage of the bill, said, “The title of this bill might be marriage but its fabric is about freedom and respect, freedom to marry regardless of sexuality or gender, but also freedom to believe that marriage should be of one man and woman and not be marginalized.”
“Clear affirmation that as a nation respect for each and every individual is paramount, regardless of ages, religion, gender, ethnicity and sexuality,” said Miller.