The House of Lords have finished debating and the Queen has given royal assent. I strongly believe that the concerns that were legitimately expressed against this bill in draft have been addressed and the law is such that those who do not wish their church to be affected by this change will not be - eg the Church of England or the Catholic Church or the Muslim faith
At the same time those churches that wish to conduct such marriages - whether they be Quakers, Unitarian, or Jewish should now be able to move forward on that. I liked the phrase of Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who said before the Commons debate:
“It is precisely because marriage is such a uniquely important institution that we should ensure that all couples who want to get married can do so, regardless of their sexuality.”
Addressing the concerns raised:
Philosophical beliefs are protected by the Equality Act 2010. As the Minister Hugh Robertson MP said in the debate on 20th May, "philosophical beliefs are protected if they are genuinely held, and we are entirely confident that the belief that marriage should be only between a man and a woman meets those criteria 100%".
The "Public Sector Equality Duty" cannot be used against people or organisations that believe in "traditional" marriage. Discrimination is not allowed because of such a view. The Attorney General has given assurances that these protections are already in place.
The House of Commons and the House of Lords spent a great deal of time assessing this legislation, and amending and improving it as part of parliamentary scrutiny. I am satisfied with the exemptions in place for Churches and individuals who do not wish to be a part of same-sex marriages. Indeed the Churches of England and Wales agree with this analysis.
The Church of England said that "the effect of what the Government has proposed is to leave decisions about the doctrine and practice of the Church of England with the Church of England". The Church in Wales has also said that "the Bill provides protection for the Church whilst still enabling it to make its own decision on same-sex marriage."
The full original debate is here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130205/debtext/130205-0004.htm
I would make three further key personal points:
i). This country is on a journey, and it is a journey that can be traced back many years. A hundred years ago there were the suffragettes and no opportunity for women to have the vote. Only in 1922 were women entitled to be MPs. Fifty years ago we had the civil rights movement and in 1967 homosexuality was made legal for the first time. Approximately 10 years ago civil partnerships were made legal. The world and this country are on a journey of change. The law must change with it - and the House of Lords and the House of Commons have in 2013 agreed.
ii). For me, this is a matter of commitment. I have spent 20 years as a community activist, councillor, lawyer, and now MP seeing examples of the difficulties that occur when couples fail to commit and fail to bring up children in the right way. Yet when two people show a desire to commit in the most serious way possible, are we to deny them that opportunity merely because they are of the same sex? That cannot be right. We know that married couples are twice as likely to stay together as cohabiting couples.
For my part, I cannot conceive of a God who creates, allows and permits homosexuals but would then want us to deny them the right to seek marital fulfilment within a religious context.
iii). Some have insisted that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage. Does anyone feel that they would be less married because we had gay constituents or a gay colleague who would commit to their partner in that way? I am presently not married, and this job is a real barrier to finding a wife and settling down, as it requires me to live in 2 places etc etc. But when I do find a woman mad enough to want an ageing jockey / politician husband then the fact that gay friends and gay colleagues are also getting married would not stop me from doing so.