The British government has published its bill to legalize same-sex marriage today, with members of Parliament expected to debate and vote on the measure starting February 5.
Put forward by PM David Cameron’s Conservative Party, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill grants marriage rights to gay couples, but precludes religious groups—most notably the Church of England—from having to perform same-sex ceremonies.
“We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry and that is exactly what the proposals being brought forward today do,” Equalities Minister Maria Miller told BBC Radio. “The values of marriage bind families and communities together and bring stability. I believe that couples should not be excluded from marriage just because they love someone of the same sex.”
In addition to Cameron and his cabinet, the bill has broad support among lawmakers from the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, though some Conservative lawmakers and Christian groups have stood against it. Other denominations, including Quakers and Unitarians say they will happily opt in and marry same-sex couples.
The religious exemption is a key part of the bill’s language: The Church of England has a legal obligation to marry its parishioners, but Miller said that “to protect them from legal challenge… the bill makes clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples.” According to GayStarNews, clergy in the Church of England and the Church in Wales are “explicitly banned” from conducting same-sex weddings, until it changes its own policy about marriage.
Since 2005, same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil unions that grant legal protection, adoption and inheritance rights as heterosexual married partners. Should the measure pass, those in civil unions will be able to “upgrade” their relationships to full marriages.