A Bill for religious freedom and true equality

Posted by Bella Sankey on 25 January 2013

Today the Government published its much-talked-about Bill to legalise same-sex civil marriage and same-sex marriage in places of worship. Culture Secretary Maria Miller, who introduced the legislation, said it will ensure “equal and fair” treatment of gay couples while maintaining the right to religious freedom by ensuring religious institutions that don’t wish to hold such ceremonies are not required to do so.

The publication of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is another historic step towards true equality for the UK. When it comes to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, we have come a long way in recent years – this legislation represents the natural culmination of that progress. Marriage is one of the most significant celebrations of love and commitment to another. It’s quite right that it finally be opened up to everyone, regardless of their sexuality.

As the Bill confirms, claims and fears about the impact on religious denominations’ freedom to express religious views are completely without foundation. Adequate legal protection has been included in the legislation’s provisions to ensure that no religious body or faith minister will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. And Article 9 of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 will add further protection for religious organisations, alongside the Bill’s legal safeguards.

We have a proud human rights framework in this country – one protecting both equality and freedom of religion. That’s now being extended to allow those faith groups wishing to do so to conduct and celebrate gay marriage, which is hugely encouraging.

The Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons on February 5. Liberty hopes that politicians across the spectrum recognise the momentous opportunity this legislation provides – and vote in favour of religious freedom and true equality.