The Equalities Minister Maria Miller has revealed plans to legalise same-sex marriage to the UK Parliament at Westminster.
The proposals have received widespread political support from MPs across all the major parties; however, religious groups have broadly condemned them.
The latest announcement clarifies how the Government will protect religious faiths from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Last month the Church of England and Wales voted against permitting same-sex marriages.
The Government has recognised that the position of the churches could lead to a legal challenge under the Equalities Act 2010 or under human rights legislation. As a result, whilst endorsing the right for same-sex couples to marry, any future legislation is likely to make it illegal for any same-sex marriage to be conducted in any church unless the faith's main decision-making body has supported same-sex marriage.
Mrs Miller also announced that the Equalities Act would be amended to prevent any challenge to any church that bans same-sex marriage.
"Because the Churches of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriage the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples," she told the Commons.
Mrs Miller has described the legal protections announced today as a 'quadruple lock' protecting churches from same-sex marriage laws. The proposals include:
· Laws that will protect any religious organisation or individual minister from being forced to hold a same-sex wedding
· Amending the Equalities Act to bar discrimination claims against any religious group refusing to conduct gay marriages
· An opt-in system for any religious group and individual minister that wishes to conduct a same-sex marriage
· Explicitly making it illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to conduct same-sex marriage
Although Mrs Miller and the majority of MPs support a change in the law to allow gay marriage, she emphasised that the 'deep-seated' religious views of the minority should be respected.