UK marriage equality consultation delayed

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The British government says a consultation on the future of marriage equality and civil partnerships will be held this autumn.

Earlier this year, equality minister Lynne Featherstone said the government would begin asking for views on the issue in the summer.

Speaking in May, she said: “Having listened to stakeholders, it is clear that there is a genuine desire among many of them to move forward to equality between marriage and civil partnerships. Over the summer we shall start a discussion with all those with an interest in the matter on how legislation can develop.”

In response to an enquiry, a Home Office spokesman said: “We are at the early stages of this work and will be, from the autumn, looking to discuss with a range of stakeholders how this work can move forward.”

Gay rights campaigners expressed concern at a potential hold-up and urged the government to move quickly.

Peter Tatchell, who has already filed a marriage equality case at the European Court of Human Rights, said the delay was disappointing.

He said: “The government announced its plan to consult way back in February. The consultation was scheduled to begin in the summer. Now it has been put back until the autumn. There is no excuse for these endless delays. Either the government is committed to equality or it is not.

“What is there to consult on? Equality is non-negotiable. There would be no long drawn out consultation if this was an issue of racial discrimination. The government would promptly legislate to ensure race equality. Why the double standards when it comes to the ban on same-sex marriage?”

Mr Tatchell said the government should aim to change the law by next summer. Ministers have suggested that the law could change by 2015.

Stonewall, which announced last November it would support the drive for gay marriages and the retention of civil partnerships, has already published a draft response to the consultation and says it will work with the government to push through the change.

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall’s director of public affairs, said: “Lynne Featherstone has made it clear that she is only interested in consulting on legislative change that can be delivered in the lifetime of this parliament.

“We hope this delay won’t prevent the coalition government from extending the legal form of marriage to same sex couples before 2015.”