A Bill to legalise same-sex marriage in England and Wales has been published by the Government today.
It was announced in the Commons yesterday by Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities Maria Miller.
"Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country - one which has changed throughout our history, and continues to change.
"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 opening up marriage to same-sex couples, we will further strengthen the importance of marriage in our society.
"Our proposals recognise, respect and value the very important role that faith plays in our lives. I have always been crystal clear that I would not put forward any legislation that did not provide protection for religious organisations.
"This Bill protects and promotes religious freedom, so that all religious organisations can act according to their, doctrines and beliefs.
"Crucially, the Bill recognises the unique legal situation of the Church of England and the Church in Wales.
"Unlike any other religious organisation in this country, their clergy are subject to a legal duty to marry parishioners.
"To protect them from legal challenge, therefore, the Bill makes clear that this duty does not extend to same-sex couples.
"Both Churches have been clear that they do not currently wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples. If they choose to do so at a later date, they will of course be able."
The Rt Revd Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said:
"As we have repeatedly made clear to officials, we regret that more time has not been made available before publication of the Bill to give every detail the attention it deserves.
"We will wish to comment further when we have had the opportunity to examine the provisions in the Bill more closely.
"The Church of England however continues to hold the view, set out in doctrine and Canon law, that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
"It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been part of the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.
"I welcome the opportunity that civil partnerships have given to enable same-sex couples to mark and celebrate their commitment to each other.
"For the Church of England, in common with other denominations and faiths, one central test of this Bill is whether it will preserve and guarantee religious practice and religious conscience.
"We recognise that the Government has sought hard to do so in the drafting, but as the legislative process continues we shall wish to press serious questions about the implications for wider society, for the significance of procreation and upbringing of children as part of the purpose of marriage, the effect on teaching in schools, and the work of chaplains and others with religious convictions who are involved in public service delivery."
Archbishop Peter Smith, Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, has met with 60 representatives from 35 British Catholic lay organisations concerned about the government's proposals. The archbishop agrees with various representatives that the proposals were a threat to Catholic schools since Catholic teachers would be required to teach about same-sex marriage in the same terms as regular marriage.
Dr Sharon James from the Coalition for Marriage is also worried teachers will be sacked if they don't publicly support the Bill in schools:
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) believes the government is 'vandalising a timeless institution'.
Its General Secretary Paul Tully, said:
"Throughout history the core of marriage has always been a life-giving kind of union between man and woman even when no children may result. "It is like throwing away the treasures in the National Gallery and putting up copies instead.
"Same-sex relationships may have some of the outward appearance of a married relationship, but they lack the orientation to conceiving and bearing children which is at the heart of natural marriage.
"The bill is wrong in principle and must be stopped now. We urge people to contact their MPs immediately to ask them to attend the 2nd reading debate and vote the bill down."
However, Quakers have welcomed the publication of the Bill.
They feel this is an issue of religious freedom which allows them to conduct same-sex marriages in their meeting houses. Paul Parker is recording clerk for the Quakers in Britain, he told Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour he's satisfied with the protections included:
The legislation will also seek to amend the Equality Act 2010 to make clear that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry a same-sex couple. It also protects the Church of England's Canon law which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, so that it does not conflict with civil law. The Bill has divided MPs with a senior cabinet member raising concerns over the protection of religious groups who don't approve of gay marriage. Defence Minister Phillip Hammond - in a letter to a constituent - said he was unsure over the robustness of protection that was being offered. The former Defence Secretary Liam Fox called gay marriage proposals "divisive, ill thought through and constitutionally wrong".
Out4Marriage campaigns for gay marriage and believes that today marks the beginning of the end of legalised inequality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.
Its spokesman James-J Walsh said: But as with all great efforts the last hurdle is often the hardest. The path of this bill through both the Houses of Commons and the Lords is not going to be an easy one.
"The Coalition Government deserves credit for showing leadership, doing the 'right' thing and not the easy thing."
The Government's equal civil marriage consultation was launched last March and ran for 13 weeks.
It received more than 228,000 individual responses, the largest ever response to a Government consultation, the majority of which were in favour of gay marriage.
MPs will get a free vote when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill has its second reading in the House of Commons on February 5th.