Homosexual couples should be allowed to marry in churches, Nick Clegg has insisted – in an open breach with Government policy.
The Deputy Prime Minister made clear that David Cameron’s promise to exclude religious groups might only be temporary.
Mr Clegg became the most senior member of the Government to throw his support behind same-sex weddings in religious buildings.
He said that this was only his personal view “at the moment”.
It follows a series of hints from leading Coalition figures that reassurances given to religious groups could be revisited once the plans are on the statute book.
Opponents of same-sex marriage said Mr Clegg’s comments made clear that the reassurances offered to religious groups could not be relied upon.
Both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have voiced fears that priests could eventually be forced to conduct same-sex weddings against their teachings.
A clutch of religious groups including the Quaker and Unitarian churches as well as Reform and Liberal Judaism have said that they would like to be able to conduct same–sex weddings.
But David Cameron told religious leaders at Easter that he did not want to “fall out” over gay marriage adding that the plans would affect “what happens in a register office, not what happens in a church”.
The recent Home Office consultation paper makes clear that it would not be “legally possible” for religious groups to marry homosexual couples even if they wanted to.
The blanket exemption was intended to reassure those who feared they would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings against their will.
But it has thrown up a clutch of other legal problems including a warning from the Church of England that the creation of a new distinction in law between civil and religious marriage could open the way to disestablishment.
Last month Desmond Swayne, Mr Cameron’s parliamentary aide, became the first member of the Government to voice his support for religious groups hosting same-sex weddings if they wished.
Now, in an interview with the London Evening Standard to mark the World Pride event, Mr Clegg said: “This is a personal view at the moment, but I think that in exactly the same way that we shouldn’t force any church to conduct gay marriage, we shouldn’t stop any church that wants to conduct gay marriage.
“I don’t see why two individuals who love each other and want to show commitment to each other should not be able to do so in a way that is socially recognised as being marriage.”
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