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Britain Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

(Photo: Kool-Photos.Asia/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Kool-Photos.Asia/Flickr Creative Commons)

Same-sex marriage is now legal in England and Wales following a parliamentary vote on Tuesday and a royal stamp of approval on Wednesday.

Queen Elizabeth II gave her Royal Assent on Wednesday following final approval of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 by the House of Commons. The Queen’s approval was but a formality; the first gay marriages are expected to take place next summer.

The historic law allows same-sex couples to wed in civil as well as religious ceremonies in England in Wales, although it explicitly bars the Church of England and the Church of Wales from conducting such weddings. The law also allows couples previously joined in civil partnerships to convert those unions to marriages, with the same rights as mixed-sex couples.

The House of Commons approved final changes to the measure on Tuesday, a day after the House of Lords did so.

“This is a historic moment that will resonate in many peoples’ lives,” Equalities Minister Maria Miller, who once voted against gay adoption and fertility treatment for lesbians, declared following the Royal Assent. “I am proud that we have made it happen and I look forward to the first same-sex wedding by next summer.”

Of Britain’s three main political parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats supported marriage equality. Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, also backed gay marriage. Last year, Cameron famously affirmed his support before the Conservative Party conference in Manchester:

“I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man… It’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

Not all of Cameron’s Conservative colleagues agree. The marriage equality debate split the party, with some Tory MPs actively attempting to undermine the bill. Former Defense Minister Gerald Howarth warned against an “aggressive homosexual community” during parliamentary debate on the bill, to which fellow Tory MP Stuart Andrew, who happens to be gay, retorted: “I am not an aggressive man, but I have had the misfortune of facing aggression in a violent, physical form… in 1997 I was attacked and beaten unconscious by three men because of who and what I am.”

Right-wing lawmakers, religious leaders and conservative groups voiced their opposition to the bill with the same language heard during the marriage equality debates in the United States– that it would redefine marriage, that it would harm families, that it is against God’s will.

Legalizing equality would have “serious and harmful consequences for the health of society, family life and human rights such as freedom of religion and speech,” a group of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist figures wrote in a May appeal to Prime Minister Cameron.

There is no evidence to support allegations of “serious and harmful consequences” of gay marriage in places where it has been legalized.

Fifteen nations– Argentina, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay– have legalized same-sex marriage. Nine Brazilian states and the Brazilian Federal District, the Mexican Federal District and the state of Quintana Roo, and 13 US states– most recently California, the District of Columbia and three Native American tribes also legally allow gay marriage.

LGBT advocates in Britain rejoiced at the news that marriage equality was at hand. Supporters of the new law wore pink carnations and danced outside the Houses of Parliament following the historic vote. Ben Summerskill, head of the UK LGBT charity Stonewallsaid the law would “bring joy to tens of thousands of gay couples and their friends and families.”

Marriage equality also enjoys broad support among the British public.

“The opposition seemed restricted to a very small number of people very vigorous in their views,” Steven Fielding, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham, told the Associated Press.

That “very small number of people” includes racist extremist groups and writers with a track record of vicious hostility towards gays. Among these are frequent Digital Journal contributor Alexander Baron, who has likened homosexuality to murder, cancer and the bubonic plague, and who asserts that homosexuals are “human dung beetles and maggots” fond of eating feces and molesting children.

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