LONDON – British lawmakers on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage championed by Prime Minister David Cameron, despite strong opposition from within his Conservative Party.
In a first House of Commons vote, lawmakers voted 400 to 175 in support of the legislation. There was majority support from the left-leaning Labour Party and Liberal Democrats party, but around half of the Conservative lawmakers rejected the proposals or abstained.
The bill will have to go through more detailed parliamentary debates and a vote in the House of Lords, where a vote in favor is likely given the strong support Tuesday. If it becomes law, the proposed bill would enable same-sex couples to get married in both civil and religious ceremonies, provided that the religious institution consents.
The bill would also allow couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships to convert their relationship into a marriage.
Earlier, Cameron – who did not attend a Parliament debate ahead of the vote – said passing the bill is “an important step forward” for Britain.
“I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too,” he said. “This is, yes, about equality. But it is also about making our society stronger.”
Officials have stressed that all religious organizations can decide for themselves if they want to “opt in” to holding gay weddings. However, the Church of England, the country’s official faith, is barred from performing such ceremonies.
That provision aims to ensure that the Church, which opposes gay marriage, is protected from legal claims that as the official state religion it must marry anyone who requests it.
Currently same-sex couples only have the option of a civil partnership, which offers the same legal rights and protections on issues such as inheritance, pensions, and child maintenance.
Supporters say that gay relationships should be treated exactly the same way as heterosexual ones, but critics worry that the proposals would change long-standing views about the meaning of marriage. Some Conservatives also fear the proposals would cost the party a significant number of votes in the next election.
“Marriage is the union between a man and a woman, has been historically, remains so. It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to re-write the lexicon,” Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale said.
If passed, the bill’s provisions would come into effect in 2015. They apply only to England and Wales – there are no plans for similar legislation in Northern Ireland. Scotland is considering introducing a similar bill.