Britain will announce plans next week to allow gay marriages in churches and other religious buildings, officials said Friday, although Prime Minister David Cameron insisted no faith group would be forced to hold them.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller will unveil ministers' responses to a consultation earlier this year, which will propose that religious organisations should be able to 'opt-in' to hold same-sex weddings, according to a government source.
Amid strong opposition from the Church of England and Roman Catholics, however, as well as many members of Cameron's Conservative party, Miller will stress that no religious groups will be forced to conduct gay weddings.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to a car factory, Cameron said: “I'm a massive supporter of marriage and I don't want gay people to be excluded from a great institution.
“But let me be absolutely 100 percent clear, if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn't want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it.
“That is absolutely clear in the legislation.
“Also let me make clear, this is a free vote for members of Parliament but personally I will be supporting it.”
Gay couples have had the right to hold a civil partnership since 2004 but campaigners have pushed for full equality with heterosexual couples.
In its submission to the public consultation in June, the Church of England said legalising gay marriage could force it out of its traditional role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state.
However the Quakers welcomed Friday's news, saying they had been campaigning since 2009 for all marriages in Quaker meeting houses to be legally valid.
“We are waiting for the law to catch up,” said recording clerk Paul Parker, adding: “For Quakers, this is an issue of religious freedom and we don't seek to impose this on others.”
A government spokesman said: “The government is committed to bringing equal civil marriage forward and the consultation results will be announced next week.
“We are very clear that religious organisations must be protected and that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
“The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees freedom of religion and we will additionally bring in very strong legal locks to ensure the protection is watertight.” - Sapa-AFP