Exclusive: Government to support gay couples marrying in church in plans to be announced next week

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

PinkNews.co.uk understands the government is to push for complete marriage equality, meaning religious organisations will be allowed to provide same-sex marriages, as part of its reforms, despite widespread opposition by senior Anglican and Catholic leaders.

Although the Catholic Church and Church of England is opposed to the measure, groups such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism support marriage rights for gay couples and have stated they would like to provide the ceremonies.

The London Evening Standard has revealed that the government’s lawyers have “devised a foolproof legal ‘lock’ to protect churches that oppose the reform from being dragged in.”

Earlier this year, the UK’s most senior Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien described the measure as “grotesque”.

In September, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, also warned that equal marriage would pave the way for Mormon-style polygamous relationships.

Previously, the government had said that same-sex civil marriages would be legalised at some point before the next general election in 2015, although it has not been certain if ministers would also allow religious institutions to hold same-sex marriages as well because of fierce opposition by church leaders.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which houses the government department responsible for responding to this year’s public consultation on equal marriage, could make its official recommendations as early as Monday.

Culture Secretary and Minister for Equalities Maria Miller would then be expected to make an oral statement in front of MPs in the House of Commons.

In a statement, the DCMS said: “We are very clear that religious organisations must be protected and that none will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage.” Senior sources in Downing Street and in the DCMS confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that we should interpret this statement as confirmation that the government will allow churches to perform same-sex marriages if they wish to.

The original government proposals did not allow for gay religious marriages, but earlier this year David Cameron told campaigners from Out4Marriage that he supported letting churches and synagogues decide for themselves.

Meanwhile, deputy PM and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said in July: “I think that in exactly the same way that we shouldn’t force any church to conduct gay marriage, we shouldn’t stop any church that wants to conduct gay marriage.”

In September, Labour leader Ed Miliband added his support to the Out4Marriage campaign, and said that Labour believes churches should be given the right to hold same-sex weddings.

More than 100 Conservative MPs have expressed concern over the government’s marriage reforms.

In a statement, Out4Marriage said it was “delighted” the Coalition was making the bill a priority. “We are glad that they appear like us to believe in religious freedom, that churches must have the freedom to decide themselves whether to allow gay couples to marry. We eagerly await the full details of this historic change in the law next week.”