The minister for women and equalities has assured MPs that the government’s plans for same-sex marriages will ensure that faith organisations do not have to conduct gay ceremonies amid fierce criticism from Conservative MPs over the idea.
Maria Miller, who also serves as culture secretary, confirmed that plans to allow same-sex couples to marry would be put forward on Tuesday following a consultation.
But she said the government would ensure the necessary legal safeguards were in place to ensure religious organisations were not forced to conduct gay weddings because of fears of a legal challenge.
Ministers had already offered a guarantee that no institution would be forced to marry gay people on their premises – but Tory MPs and religious groups have questioned whether it would stand up to challenges under the Human Rights Act.
Miller told MPs in response to an urgent question from the Tory MP Edward Leigh that she would never introduce a bill that encroached on religious freedom, and explained that the government’s legal position was that “with the appropriate legislative drafting the chances of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible”.
She told MPs that the government “fully respects” the rights of religious institutions not to carry out gay marriages.
“Freedom of religious belief is as important as equality and the views that people of faith hold should not be marginalised and should be fully respected,” she said.
Miller said the government would outline its plans for how it intends to forge ahead with plans for equal civil marriage on Tuesday in line with plans to legislate before the end of this parliament.
“Our position remains that we firmly support marriage. It’s one of the most important institutions we have in our country. The government should not stop people from being married unless there is a very good reason and being gay, I believe, isn’t one of them.”
She added: “I believe it will be vitally important to continue to work with religious organisations to ensure effective safeguards are in place.”