LONDON — The British Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, is unveiling plans for introduction of a measure before Parliament that legalizes same-sex marriage in Britain before 2015. Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat, has also vowed to make Britain “a world leader for gay rights.”
Under current British law, same-sex couples are allowed civil partnerships, which offer most of the legal protections of marriage. But several recent polls indicate that two-thirds of the British public would support same-sex marriage.
An advance copy of the speech that Featherstone will deliver before a Liberal Democrat Party conference in Birmingham on Saturday was released to the press, and states:
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“While on my travels as a champion for women’s rights, I am and will be a champion for gay rights too. Britain must not get complacent. We are a world leader for gay rights, but there is still more that we must do.
“In March, this Government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same sex couples, and this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this Parliament.
“Civil partnerships were a welcome first step – but this party rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms, and I believe that to deny one group of people the same opportunities offered to another is not only discrimination, but is not fair.”
Featherstone’s announcement reportedly comes with the full backing of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
A source in the prime minister’s offices at 10 Downing Street told the British press Friday that the Cameron had taken a strong personal interest in the move, and “had insisted that progress be speeded up.” The official added that Cameron believes same-sex civil marriage “is the right thing to go for.”
In 2006, in his first speech as the Tory leader, Cameron said, “There’s something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment […] And by the way, it means something whether you’re a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man.”
“I am so glad that we now have civil partnerships. They have helped remove discrimination and have given gay people the rights that they deserve. I want to do everything I can to support commitment and I’m open to changing things further to guarantee equality.”
Once the changes to current law are implemented, same-sex couples will be able to have full marriages in registry offices, on equal footing with their heterosexual counterparts. But they will still be barred from getting married in churches and other religious buildings – even though some denominations want to offer the services.
“This change will make a difference to a number of gay people who are concerned at the differing status of civil partnerships and marriage,” said Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the LGBTQ advocacy group Stonewall UK.