The Government has this week announced its plans in relation to gay marriage, which is to become legal for most religious organisations should they decide to opt into the legislation. I considered some of the issues that gay marriage raised for practitioners shortly after the government’s consultation on this subject ended in June 2012. The culture secretary Maria Miller, who announced the plans on Tuesday, detailed what she described as a “quadruple lock” to allow same sex couples to marry but also to protect those institutions and individuals that do not want to participate in performing same sex marriages from the threat of litigation on the grounds of discrimination. The legislation is designed to recognise equality whilst protecting religious freedoms. The biggest objections to the announcement have come from those institutions that are to be explicitly excluded, the Church of England and the Church of Wales, where it will remain illegal for same sex couples to marry. They are claiming that Ms Miller’s announcement was a surprise as they were not consulted on their exclusion and there may be discussion of an amendment. After the summer debates in which the Church of England claimed gay marriage was “the greatest threat to the Church of England in 500 years” it is be difficult to comprehend them now campaigning to be included in the opt in legislation. Perhaps their real objections lie in the fact that they were not given the final word in how they are treated in the legislation or that they are being singled out in a very public way as being opposed to this progressive, and for many much welcomed, change to the law.
The governments plans may also throw up some interesting legal questions such as the definition of adultery as being grounds for divorce.