Bradford MPs last night spoke of their support for a policy which would allow churches to “opt in” to holding same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Politicians from across the district said they agreed with a proposal, due to be announced next Tuesday, which would mean places of worship and other venues can hold civil marriage ceremonies. But no institution will be forced to marry gay couples on their premises if they do not want to.
Keighley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said the institution of marriage was “rightly cherished by society” and “should be available to all”.
“I am certainly in favour of same-sex marriage.
“Civil partnerships were a positive step in the right direction but many gay people do not believe that these arrangements go far enough.
“Equally, members of religious communities, including vicars and priests, had been fearful that they would be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies but this will absolutely not be the case.
“I appreciate that not everyone agrees with the proposals and I respect the objections that they hold. However, I would ask them to respect the views of the majority of us who believe that same-sex marriage is a good thing.”
Mr Hopkins spoke as about a dozen senior Conservative party figures, including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove, helped formed a new group to campaign for gay marriage.
As well as Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, it includes Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, who is Catholic, Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt, an evangelical Christian, former Tory ministers Lord Fowler and Nicholas Soames and Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson.
Nick Herbert, the former police minister who resigned from the Government in September’s reshuffle and who is in a civil partnership, said changing the law was “the right the thing to do”.
Legislation is expected to be introduced before Easter with the first ceremonies likely be held in spring 2014.
Bradford East Liberal Democrat MP David Ward said: “I don’t think we should go down the route of forcing churches to do this, but I would hope they would feel they can be able to allow two people who love each other to have a religious ceremony because that’s the fair thing to do.
“Forcing them to do it would be too extreme.”
Bradford South Labour MP Gerry Sutcliffe said: “I have no problem with the principal, but I don’t think it should be forced upon churches.
“I think each church should be able to make its own decision on whether it holds ceremonies, so those that want to can, and those that don’t aren’t forced to.”
Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway said: “I’m in favour of same-sex marriage but I don’t think you can compel churches to perform ceremonies against their will. It should be down to individual churches.
“It is precisely because marriage is such a uniquely important institution that we should ensure that all couples who want to enter into it, regardless of their sexuality, can do so," he added.