Maria Miller: Allowing churches to hold same-sex marriages will strengthen religious freedom

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Culture Secretary and Minister for Equality, Maria Miller has laid out the Government’s plans for introducing full marriage equality in England and Wales in an article for the Conservative supporting Daily Telegraph.

Mrs Miller has given more details than her colleagues David Cameron and Nick Clegg following the publication of the Government’s plans in the Evening Standard and earlier this morning.

In her article, Mrs Miller says: “Some people say that marriage is an outdated institution. They couldn’t be more wrong. It is just as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago. That is because the principles of love, loyalty and commitment which are at its heart are vital component parts of a strong society. Marriage brings stability and it binds us together. It helps make our families stronger.

She continues: “Much of its [marriage’s] strength lies in its ability to change with the times. As society has changed, so marriage has changed, and become available to an increasingly broad range of people. In the 21st century is an inclusive, not exclusive, institution. It is available to all adults who are prepared to make vows of lifelong fidelity and commitment. Except, that is, if you happen to love someone of the same sex. I believe that simply isn’t right, and that is why the Government is clear: we want to make marriage available to all couples.

“Now, I know that this is an issue that raises strong feelings on all sides. But if you ask, most people agree that marriage is a good thing, something to be welcomed and celebrated, a source of huge joy and happiness, and that is wrong to exclude people from it just because they love someone of the same sex.”

Addressing the objections by religious organisations to the Government’s plans, Mrs Miller writes: “I know concerns have been raised by some faith groups about our plans and what they will mean for them. I have put it on record many times, and I will say again, that I will never bring in a law that would impinge – in any way – on the Church’s power to decide who it marries and who it does not. No religious organisation, or individual, should ever be forced to conduct same sex marriages. The European Convention on Human Rights already guarantees freedom of religion, and this cannot be breached. We should not confuse this issue, as many do, with some cases currently going through the EU courts about the right to wear items such as crucifixes – this is about a fundamental religious tenet. But in spite of this guarantee, I will also be bringing forward additional watertight legal locks on the front of any primary legislation introduced, to ensure that these protections are iron clad.

“Now, many religious organisations have pointed out to me that these protections would be stronger if we changed our original proposal to ban all religious organisations from conducting same sex marriages. Some, like the Quakers, Liberal Jews and Unitarians, have also said that they want to be able to conduct same-sex marriages, in the same way that they can conduct civil partnerships. My own personal view is that we should not stand in the way of this, especially if it means that those that don’t want to will be even further protected. It is a fundamental point of religious freedom that religious bodies should be able to make their own decisions on this issue.”

The Minister for Equality continues: “For me, far from being a radical departure, this is simply one more in a long line of reforms which have strengthened marriage, ensuring it remains a modern and vibrant institution. Over the coming weeks and months I will continue to work closely with faith and other interested groups on how best to implement our plans.”

She ends: “This is a free vote issue for the Conservative party, and I am looking forward to an open and lively debate when we set out our plans in more detail next week. I know which way I’ll be voting.”