Same-sex couples are to be allowed to hold civil partnership ceremonies in churches and other places of worship in England and Wales. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said no religious group would be forced to host them, but those who wished to could apply by the end of the year.
Much-needed changes: Activists hail the new plan saying it was long overdue and was an important step towards complete equality. Representation Pic
The Church of England said it has "no intention" of blessing gay couples. Previously, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the change was "long overdue". The announcement was made in a written response to a consultation.
Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat MP, said, "The government is advancing equality for LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths. No religious group will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward."
Civil partnership ceremonies are currently entirely secular. Marriage between people of the same gender is not legal in the UK but civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give couples the same legal protection as if they were married. A Church of England spokesman said it had no intention of allowing civil partnerships to be registered in its churches.
However, the spokesman said the church would study the draft regulations to check ministers had delivered "genuine religious freedom" by way of denominational opt-in, and if so, there would no reason to oppose the regulations.
The legislation would also cover synagogues and mosques, although homosexual relationships are forbidden under Islam and Orthodox Judaism. The Office Of National Statistics reported 6,385 civil partnerships by same-sex couples in the UK in 2010.