February 5, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
British House of Commons approves same-sex marriage bill
Great Britain, parliament, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Takasunrise0921 via Wikimedia Commons)

The British House of Commons on Tuesday approved a proposal that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The 400-175 vote came after an hours-long debate on the measure.

Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller stressed the bill “is about fairness.” She said it also protects religious freedom and registrars would receive the same protections under the law.

The European Court of Human Rights last month said religious beliefs cannot justify discrimination against same-sex couples. A registrar who said the Borough of Islington outside London unfairly disciplined her because she refused to officiate civil partnerships for same-sex couples after the United Kingdom’s civil partnership law took effect in 2005 is among the two British Christians who claimed their employers unfairly discriminated against them because of their opposition to homosexuality and relationship recognition for gays and lesbians.

Shadow Women and Equalities Minister Yvette Cooper noted President Obama’s support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

“Parliament shouldn’t stop people getting married simply because they have fallen in love with someone of the same sex,” she said.

Gay MP Stephen Gilbert, who represents St. Austell and Newquay in Cornwall, highlighted the struggles he said he faced when coming out as he spoke in support of the proposal that he described as “historic legislation.”

“We have a come a long way in a short space of time,” Gilbert said. “But it is absolutely right in my view that the House take the next step and deliver full equality to gay men and lesbians in this country.”

MP Nadine Dorries, who represents portions of Bedfordshire, said the bill “actually highlights the inequalities that are going to be there.”

“Marriage is based on the definition of sex,” she said.

The vote took place three days after French lawmakers approved an amendment to a same-sex marriage bill that defines marriage as between two people of the opposite or same sex. Legislators continue to debate the proposal that would extend both marriage and adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain are among the European countries that allow same-sex couples to marry. Scottish lawmakers in the coming months are also expected to consider a similar measure.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall, gay news, Washington Blade

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill (Photo courtesy of Stonewall)

“As the last piece of the legislative jigsaw providing equality for gay people in Britain, this is a truly historic step forward,” Ben Summerskill, executive of the LGBT advocacy group Stonewall said. “We’re absolutely delighted that MPs have demonstrated so overwhelmingly that they’re in touch with the twenty-first century.”

Summerskill said he expects “a tough battle” in the House of Lords on the same-sex marriage bill, but he remains optimistic about the measure’s prospects. Prime Minister David Cameron also supports the proposal.

“The size of the Commons majority seen tonight — much larger than for most normal government business — will make it very difficult for peers to suggest that the bill should be rejected,” Summerskill said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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