Bristol MPs 'in favour' of same-sex marriage plans
PLANS to change the law to allow same-sex marriages have been given the thumbs-up by most MPs in the Bristol area.
The government is currently consulting on the switch, which has stirred a furious debate involving church leaders, campaigners and politicians.
Yesterday the Church of England was accused of "melodramatic scaremongering" after it claimed that same-sex marriage could undermine its status in society.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Bristol said Bishop Mike Hill supported the Church of England's response to the consultation, adding: "He hopes that the government will take seriously the concerns that are raised."
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Under the government's proposals, the law would be changed to allow same-sex couples to have a marriage through a civil ceremony.
According to the Coalition for Equal Marriage campaign, of the MPs that have so far expressed a view on the change, 237 would be likely to vote in favour of the change, and 57 against.
North Somerset Conservative MP Liam Fox has recently criticised the proposals, saying they were the priority of the "metropolitan elite".
And yesterday fellow Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, who represents North East Somerset, said he saw no reason to change the law.
But Bristol West MP Stephen Williams, Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy, Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore and Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb all said they would vote in favour of the government's proposals.
Charlotte Leslie, the Conservative MP for Bristol North West, said the state should treat everyone equally but said the current debate raised "bigger questions" about the relationship between church and state.
In a response to constituents who have asked her opinion on the issue, Labour MP Ms McCarthy said the change of law would not affect the relationship between a husband and a wife.
She said: "People have highlighted the positive difference that marriage has made to their lives and I do not think it is fair to deny same-sex couples this same status or happiness."
Mr Williams, who was the first openly gay Liberal Democrat MP, has previously hit out at church leaders' "grossly offensive" language in campaigning against gay marriage.
Yesterday he re-iterated his support for the move, criticising claims that the issue is a "distraction" from other government business.
Mr Williams said: "Parliament is perfectly capable of handling several issues at once."
Mr Skidmore said churches should have freedom to decide who gets married in their premises, but said: "If there is a vote, I will be voting for marriage for everyone.
"I do not believe that anybody should be denied the opportunities and benefits open to others simply on the grounds of their sexuality. If I had a son or a daughter who happened to be gay, I would want them to have the same legal status as anyone else."
Mr Webb said that as a member of the Church of England, he did not think churches should be forced to carry out same-sex marriages.
But he said: "I don't think registry offices should be turning same-sex couples away from civil marriage, which is funded by the taxpayer and is a public service."
Ms Leslie pointed out that heterosexual couples cannot currently form a civil partnership.
She said: "I believe the state has an unequivocal duty to treat its citizens equally, but must not be allowed to dictate terms of marriage to our church institutions."
Last weekend Dr Fox said: "I think that the vast majority of the public have a completely different set of priorities from what I would call the metropolitan elite and I think they will be looking for economic and social issues to be dealt with first."
Mr Rees-Mogg said he followed the Catholic Church's teachings on moral matters, saying: "I see no reason to change marriage."
In its response to the consultation, published yesterday, the Church of England said introducing gay marriage would threaten the establishment of the Church of England and lead to an unprecedented clash between its own canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and that of Parliament.
It also warned that the legislation may not withstand a legal human rights challenge.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of campaigning gay rights group Stonewall, branded the response a "masterclass in melodramatic scaremongering".
Around a quarter of weddings in England take place in Church of England churches with the number rising in 2010 by four per cent to 54,700, compared with 52,730 in 2009.