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U.K. Begins Process Toward Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Mar 16, 2012
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In an attempt to legalize same-sex marriage, the U.K. government has launched a 12-week consultation on allowing gay couples to marry, the BBC reported.

The government hopes to legalize same-sex marriage before the next general election in 2015. Since 2005, gay couples from the U.K. have been allowed to enter into civil partnerships, which have similar legal rights as straight marriages.

The Home Office, a government department responsible for immigration control, security and order, proposed to allow gay couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony, to convert civil partnerships into marriages and to keep a legal ban on same-sex couples marrying in a religious service.

"We’re not looking at changing religious marriage, even for those that might wish to do it," Lynne Featherstone a liberal Democrat equalities minister said. "I understand the liberal Jews, the Quakers and some Unitarian churches would like it, but that’s not in the sight of this consultation."

The BBC points out that the Labor Party said that the proposals do not go far enough.

"Religious marriages are a matter for each church and denomination, not for the government. But equally, the government should go further than they currently plan," said Yvette Cooper of Shadow Home Security said. "Churches who want to celebrate gay marriage [should have] the chance to do so."

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said he is pleased with the government’s proposed ideas on same-sex marriage but is not satisfied, as he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry in religious institutions.

"While we welcome the commitment to legalize same-sex civil marriages, we are unhappy that the government intends to maintain the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships and the ban on religious same-sex marriages, even if faith organizations wish to conduct them. This is not equality. It perpetuates discrimination," he said in a statement. "We are concerned that the Equalities Minister is unwilling to end the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships. True equality means allowing gay couples to have a civil marriage and straight couples to have a civil partnership."

"Under government proposals, gay couples will have two options: a civil marriage or a civil partnership," he added. "Straight couples will only have the option of a civil marriage. Maintaining this discrimination against heterosexual partners is unacceptable. Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be opened up to all couples, without discrimination based on sexual orientation."

Even though the government is shifting towards legalizing gay marriage, there are a number of citizens and religious leaders who oppose marriage equality. Some opponents feel that the government is not listening to them when they’ve complained about the issue.

"I always thought that a consultation was about listening to people and asking them their views, before making a decision," Colin Hart, campaign director for Coalition for Marriage, told Reuters. "Not only are they redefining the meaning of marriage, they’re redefining the meaning of consultation."

The Church of England strongly opposes gay marriage.

"Arguments that suggest religious marriage is separate and different from civil marriage, and will not be affected by the proposed redefinition, misunderstand the legal nature of marriage in this country," the church said in a statement.

Last weekend, Archbishop Vincent Nicholas, the senior Roman Catholic cleric in England, wrote a letter about the issue, which was read during Mass.

"There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female, or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children," he said.

The U.K.’s former prime minister, Tony Blair, is a committed Catholic but still supports gay marriage. While in office, he promoted the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which granted civil partnerships to U.K. gay couples and allowed them to have many legal rights straight married couples have. In 2009, Blair criticized the Vatican’s views towards gays.

"Actually, we need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith," he said in an interview published in Attitude magazine.

"Look, there are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this pope stands for," Blair added. "But I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic church, particularly a well-attended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were."

The American ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s recently announced their support for gay marriage in the U.K. by renaming their "Oh My Apple Pile" flavor to "Apple-y Ever After," the U.K. website TNT Magazine reported. The ice cream’s new cover depicts a two cartoon grooms atop a wedding cake that’s decorated with rainbow ribbons.

"Social justice is at the core of our values," said a Ben and Jerry’s statement. "Since our humble beginning 34 years ago, Ben & Jerry’s has been an advocate for equal rights. Did you know we were one of the first companies in the US back in 1993 that widened our health & employment benefits umbrella to recognize unmarried domestic partners regardless of their sexual orientation? If you think that Civil Partnership is the same as marriage, think again! Show your support and help convince members of parliament that it’s time to say ’I do’ to same sex marriage!"

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