Quakers in Britain have welcomed the personal support given by the Deputy Prime Minister for the right of same-sex couples to marry in places of worship.
In response to a letter from Quakers, Nick Clegg has written: “Marriage is an important institution based on love and commitment and I believe that it is a twenty first century human right for that choice to be available to all – gay or straight. So I am proud that this Coalition Government has now committed to introduce equal marriage and has confirmed that we will legislate by 2015.
“It is not the place of government to mandate religious organisations to conduct gay marriages. But nor is it the place of government to ban them from doing so,” wrote Nick Clegg.
Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain, said: "Quakers welcome Nick Clegg's support for our position on this. Quakers see God in everyone and so we would say all committed relationships are of equal worth. We have recognised same-sex couples as married since 2009 and have been waiting for the law to catch up. We will await with interest how the coalition government will make this a reality in law when the report of the recent consultation on equal marriage, which currently extends only to civil marriages, is published."
The full text of the letter to Quakers in Britain from the Deputy Prime Minister reads:
Many thanks for your letter. I very much appreciate you taking the time to get in touch.
As I am sure you are aware, I personally have long supported the right of those in same- sex relationships to marry. I am also pleased to say that at our party conference in September 2010, the Liberal Democrats became the first political party to adopt this position as our official policy.
Civil partnerships were an important first step. But marriage is an important institution based on love and commitment, and I believe that it is a 21s' century human right for that choice to be available to all - gay or straight. So I am proud that this Coalition Government has now committed to introduce equal marriage and has confirmed that we will legislate by 2015.
Many couples also want to honour their commitment in their place of worship. So I am also pleased that this government recently brought forward legislation to allow civil partnerships to take place on religious premises.
The Government has been clear, and I am clear, that no religious organisation who does not wish to conduct a same-sex marriage should be forced to do so. As you so rightly say in your letter, it is important that we protect religious liberty.
But religious liberty means allowing those churches and organisations who want to open their doors and welcome same-sex couples to do so, as much as it means respecting the rights of those who do not.
The scope of the Government’s consultation covers equal civil marriage and we are currently in the process of considering the large number of responses. These will help inform the Government’s response to the consultation - which we expect to publish later this year.
But it is Liberal Democrat party policy, and my personal view, that those organisations who do wish to conduct same-sex marriages, such as the Quakers, the Unitarians and the Liberal Jews, should be free to do so.
It is not the place of government to mandate religious organisations to conduct gay marriages. But nor is it the place of government to ban them from doing so.
Thank you again for contacting me about this issue.
Nick Clegg MP Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister
Nick Clegg’s letter came in response to a joint letter from Derek McAuley, Chief Officer of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches; Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain; and Danny Rich, Chief Executive for Liberal Judaism. The full text of their joint letter to the Deputy Prime Minister reads:
We welcome your commitment to change marriage laws to enable same-sex partners to marry and offer you our prayerful support at this time. We know that you are hearing strong views about this from all around you.
Quakers in Britain, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism are all committed to equality of marriage and ask that any legislation will mean we are free to conduct same-sex marriages in our places of worship.
This is about religious liberty for us, so we don't expect parliament to force others, who may disagree with us, to marry same-sex couples if they do not wish.
We urge you to stand firm and show moral leadership on this issue, which affects the lives of many real people in this country. If, as you have said, same-sex marriage is the right thing to do, then it's right to do it properly, and it's right to do it now.
We would welcome your assurance that this issue remains a priority of the coalition government.