UK & World News
Gay Marriage 'To Be Banned In CofE Churches'
Gay weddings in the Churches of England and Wales will be explicitly banned under new laws on same-sex marriage, the Government has announced.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said other religious organisations would be able to "opt in" and offer weddings to homosexual couples.
David Cameron has backed the idea of gay marriage in church but Mrs Miller said there was too much opposition.
Unveiling the Government's plans in the Commons, she promised that religious freedom would be protected via a "quadruple lock".
As well as the ban for the established churches, it will be illegal to force a religious organisation or individual to conduct a gay wedding or allow it to happen on their premises.
It will also be unlawful for organisations or ministers to let such a marriage go ahead unless their governing body has expressly opted in.
And the Equality Act will be altered so that a discrimination claim cannot be brought where there is a refusal to marry a same-sex couple.
Mrs Miller said she would now continue to consult on how best to implement the Government's plans in legislation to be introduced early in the new year.
"I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a Bill which would allow that," she said.
She told MPs that the changes would allow equality and faith to co-exist "without threat or challenge to each other" and ensure "marriage remains a vibrant institution".
But Tory backbenchers called for the plans to be postponed until after the next election and insisted there was no public majority in favour of allowing gay couples to wed.
Conservative MP Nick Herbert, who is openly gay, was heckled when he declared he backed the Government and agreed that the proposal had "widespread support in the country".
Fellow Tory Peter Bone shouted out "no it doesn't" and his colleague Sir Roger Gale later said letters from his constituents suggested 98% were opposed.
Mrs Miller insisted that the plans struck "the right balance" between protecting religious freedom and giving same-sex couples the same chance to marry as heterosexuals.
"For some, this is contentious, a radical reform or indeed a reform too far," she said. "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 Culture Secretary added: "I would never introduce a Bill which encroaches or threatens religious freedoms."
Shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper said: "Those who argue marriage should never change are out of touch with public feeling."
As many as 130 Tory backbenchers are against the plans and could oppose Mr Cameron, who has pledged to offer a free vote on the issue.
Earlier Stewart Jackson, MP for Peterborough, told Sky News: "I believe this is a mistake. It's a very divisive issue and an unnecessary piece of legislation.
"It is fundamentally an un-Conservative policy and if (Prime Minister David Cameron) presses ahead with this it will be a disaster for the party and the country."
Gay rights campaigners welcomed the move but critics accused ministers of ignoring a petition signed by 500,000 opponents, calling it "disgraceful".
Colin Hart, campaign director of the Coalition For Marriage, claimed: "There were serious flaws with the consultation.
"Not only was it loaded in favour of ripping up the centuries-old definition of marriage, but lacked even the most basic of safeguards to check the identity of those taking part."