(Photo: AP Images / Sang Tan)
In an effort to address the concerns of religious leaders, the British government has announced that it will be illegal for the Church of England to perform same-sex marriages, while other religious institutions will be allowed to perform such unions if they wish.
The government is pushing on with efforts to legalize same-sex marriage by 2015, although it has met opposition from the Church of England, Britain's major denomination, which has insisted that the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman needs to be preserved. It has also shared fears that its churches will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages if the practice is legalized around the country.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller tried to alleviate these fears on Monday, however, announcing before the parliament that the Church of England will be banned from conducting same-sex marriages, although other religious institutions will be provided with the opportunity of "opting in" should they express the desire, BBC News reported.
"We need to be fair to same-sex couples. The state should not be banning them from such a great institution," Miller said. "But equally we need to be fair to people of faith. Churches have the right to fight for and articulate their beliefs, and be under no compulsion to conduct same-sex marriages."
"European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional 'quadruple legal lock'. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so," she continued.
The Conservative Party still remains opposed to plans to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.K, however, with Member of Parliament Peter Bone asking the House of Commons:
"How dare the secretary of state try to redefine marriage?"
Conservative MP Richard Drax added: "I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?"
Prime Minister David Cameron has been one of the leading supporters of legalizing same-sex marriage, a measure the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has stood against.
"Opening marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights on the part of those already in a civil partnership, yet would require multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone," The Church of England has said.
A recent poll of grassroots Conservative Party members also indicated that over 71 percent believe Cameron, their leader, is too aggressive in his push to redefine marriage and should abandon the initiative.
Another 47 percent of respondents to the poll indicated that the prime minister's push had damaged the reputation of the party.
Colin Hart, campaign director of the Coalition for Marriage has said: "What this latest poll reflects is the growing unease amongst grassroot Conservatives about the way the PM is trying to force through this policy without any electoral mandate and without any acknowledgement of the profound consequences this change will have."
The organization has launched a petition to preserve the traditional definition of marriage which has so far gathered more than 620,000 signatures.