The Government has begun its consultation on whether the ban on marriage between people of the same sex should be removed. As suggested by the consultation’s title – Equal civil marriage consultation – the Government is only proposing to remove the ban on civil gay marriage.
The consultation document makes clear that it is “limited to consideration of civil marriage and makes no proposals to change the way that religious marriages are solemnised“. In other words, religious institutions will not be forced to allow same-sex marriages on their premises. And moreover, perhaps in order to dodge some of the controversy which has erupted in recent weeks, there are no plans to allow same-sex marriage to take place on religious premises at all. So even religious denominations which support same-sex marriage in principle will not be allowed to conduct the ceremonies on religious premises.
What this will mean in practice remains to be seen. Since December 2011 the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises has been lifted, so in principle there would be nothing to stop a couple conducting the official “marriage” part of their ceremony a few meters away from religious premises and then going in for the “civil” part. This is a slightly bizarre effect but the proposals are clearly an imperfect compromise in a very controversial area.
My expectation is that, as was the case with civil partnerships, once the proposals are implemented and the sky does not fall in, the ban on marriages taking place on religious premises will be lifted in due course just as the equivalent ban for civil partnerships was lifted too.
So far, campaigners have been unsuccessful in forcing the issue through human rights law. Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides:
Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.
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