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May 31, 2013

British House of Commons passes marriage bill

London--The House of Commons gave its final approval to a same-sex marriage bill on May 21, leaving the legislation in the hands of the more conservative House of Lords.

Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, championed the legislation as a prime goal of his coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. The coalition was formed after the 2010 general election.

The bill passed a second reading in the House of Commons on March 20, with 175 members of Parliament opposed. The third reading on April 21 saw the margin for passage increase to 366 to 165.

In that final vote, 133 Tory MPs opposed it, along with 15 Labor MPs, four Liberal Democrats, one independent and eight Democratic Unionists. Cameron’s support for the measure has drawn criticism from the right wing of his party, who accusing him of rushing it through Parliament and abandoning core principles of the Conservatives to try to soften their image.

The bill would open civil marriage to same-sex couples, who can currently enter into “civil partnerships,” similar to the civil union available in other countries.

Religious organizations would have to apply to be allowed to perform same-sex marriages, and the Church of England and the Church of Wales, as state churches, would be barred from applying.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller cited a four-fold “lock” protecting religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage, including the requirement that governing bodies of denominations specifically opt in to performing same-sex weddings, and indemnifying clergy and organizations from discrimination suits if they refuse to marry a same-sex couple.

The House of Lords was to pick up discussion of the measure this week, and dozens of its members have said that they will resist coalition attempts to pass the legislation. It is still expected to pass, although it will be an uglier slog through the upper chamber of Parliament, which is traditionally more conservative.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to introduce same-sex marriage legislation in the near future, and it enjoys cross-party support. Three other members of the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly the British Commonwealth, already allow same-sex marriage: South Africa, Canada and New Zealand.

If the bill passes, England will join those nations and Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Iceland in offering full same-sex marriage.

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