Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of blocking the way for legal recognition of same-sex marriage, despite widespread backing for the proposal.
Following the election of Ed Miliband as Labour Party leader, same-sex civil marriage is now supported by the leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, leaving Cameron and the Conservative Party as the main opponents. This is despite growing support for the idea amongst senior Conservatives, including the London Mayor Boris Johnson and former Tory Vice-Chair Margot James MP.
With the Tories' annual conference taking place in Birmingham this week, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that, “David Cameron's refusal to support same-sex civil marriage looks increasingly isolated and out of step”.
Tatchell added, “He is ignoring the growing calls for marriage equality from senior figures within his own party and from his Liberal Democrat coalition partners, the Labour opposition and the wider public”.
A Populus poll last year found that nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of the public believe that “gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships”. A third (33 per cent) disagreed.
"The tide is turning in the UK in favour of same-sex marriage,” insisted Tatchell, “It is also a growing trend all over the world, from Canada to South Africa, Portugal and Argentina. Why can't we have marriage equality in Britain too?”
Over the last two years, marriage equality has received increasing support from religious groups.
Liberal Judaism, the Metropolitan Community Church, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches all back marriage for same-sex couples. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) has campaigned strongly for a change in the law.
All these groups welcomed a recent legal change that will allow religious elements in civil partnerships, although they insist that the change must go further to provide full equality. The government is now consulting with religious groups to work out how the change will be implemented in practice.
The wording of the law makes clear that no church or other faith group will be obliged to carry out same-sex ceremonies if they do not agree with them.
While British Quakers were heavily involved in lobbying for the change, it is as yet unclear whether they will carry out civil partnership ceremonies in their meetings, as they recently agreed to carry out same-sex marriages on “exactly” the same basis as mixed-sex marriages.
The religion and society thinktank Ekklesia has called for a thorough overhaul of marriage legislation which would provide equality for all couples while respecting the right of faith groups to adhere to their own principles on marriage. They suggest that any couple should be able to make a personal and, if they choose, religious commitment to each other, with legal registration being a separate process.