Government hits back in gay marriage debate Church told not to 'polarise' gay marriage debate

Ministers tell church not to make discussion a battle between gay rights and religion

Ministers will hit back next week at criticism by church leaders opposed to their plans to legalise gay marriage by accusing them of "polarising" the debate.

A draft of the Government's plans, leaked to The Independent, shows that ministers will seek to reassure religious groups by promising they will not be forced to carry out same-sex marriages, which will be limited to register offices and venues approved for civil marriages.

The document, drawn up by the Government Equalities Office at the Home Office, calls for a "rational debate". It says outspoken attacks by several church leaders, who have condemned the move as "grotesque" and accused David Cameron of behaving like a dictator, should not allow the discussion to become "a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs".

Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, will launch a formal 12-week consultation process next week. The Government will not include legislation in the Queen's Speech in May, saying that would pre-empt the consultation. But the decision will disappoint gay rights groups. Ministers are expected to confirm in the autumn that the law will be changed before the next general election due in 2015.

Arguing that gay marriage would "strengthen family ties", the Home Office document says: "The Government recognises the commitment by same-sex couples in a civil partnership is the same as the commitment made by opposite-sex couples in a civil marriage. It therefore makes no sense to ban same-sex couples from getting married through a civil ceremony."

The draft proposals, which have been sent to ministers, say: "We recognise the vital role religious organisations have in our society and the role that religious organisations have in marriage. A marriage through a religious ceremony and on religious premises will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman... We are not redefining how religious organisations see marriage; they are free to define marriage as they wish."

Ms Featherstone will confirm that the Government has dropped plans to allow men and women who do not wish to marry to enter into civil partnership. "We are not aware of a widespread demand for civil partnerships to be available to opposite-sex couples," says the document.

It notes that civil partnerships and civil marriage are separate legal regimes, saying some people have argued that having two different systems for same and opposite-sex couples "perpetuates misconceptions and discrimination."

On transgender groups, the report says: "Those wishing to change their legal gender are required to end their existing marriage or civil partnership. The consultation will rectify this difficult situation by enabling couples already married to remain married, and enable those in a civil partnership to convert this into a marriage."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all