Gay Marriage Passes Britain's House of Lords, Closer to Becoming Law

The British Houses of Parliament in central London. (Photo: Reuters/Eddie Keogh)

Gay marriage in Britain took one step closer toward becoming a reality on Monday after the House of Lords passed a bill that seeks to redefine marriage.

The bill will now go back to the House of Commons for a review, though the Associated Press reported that is likely to go without a problem, as the House of Commons passed the bill earlier, 390 to 148.

If signed into law, same-sex couples will be allowed to have both civil and religious ceremonies in England and Wales. The Church of England, which has opposed gay marriage and often spoken out against it, will be banned from performing ceremonies.

"It's impossible to express how much joy this historic step will bring to tens of thousands of gay people and their families and friends," said Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, according to The Telegraph.

"The Bill's progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public's support for equality – though it's also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents."

Colin Hart, campaign director for Coalition for Marriage, insisted, however, that the fight for traditional marriage is not over.

"They are just ordinary men and women, not part of the ruling elite. They are passionate, motivated and determined to fight on against a law that renders terms like husband and wife meaningless and threatens one of the foundations of the institution of marriage: fidelity and faithfulness," Hart said of traditional marriage supporters. 

Despite its opposition to gay marriage, last month the Anglican Communion admitted that the bill is likely to pass and Britain will join the growing list of countries that accept the practice.

"Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated – being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it – neither fitting well," said the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, during a government debate about the bill.

The Rt. Rev. Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, said that the question now is how the bill can be strengthened in a number of aspects, such as the rights of children and how fidelity in marriage is defined.

"If this Bill is to become law, it is crucial that marriage as newly defined is equipped to carry within it as many as possible of the virtues of the understanding of marriage it will replace. Our focus during Committee and Report stages in the coming weeks and months will be to address those points in a spirit of constructive engagement," Stevens said.

Gay marriage is an issue that has evoked dividing opinions among the general public – a 2012 poll found that 78 percent of respondents believe Britain is tolerant of gay and lesbian people, with 43 percent supporting gay marriage, another 32 percent backing civil partnerships for gay couples, and 16 percent remaining opposed to both same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.

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