This is the comment piece published inside the Telegraph today.
It’s an interesting question and a pressing one in the debate around equal civil marriage. It is owned by neither the state nor the church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said. So it is owned by the people.
The fierce debate over the past few weeks has shown people feel very strongly about marriage. Some believe the government has no right to change it at all; they want to leave tradition alone. I want to challenge that view – it is the government’s fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better.
I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, irrespective of whether they are gay or straight.
We are not prioritising gay rights, or trampling over tradition; we are allowing a space for the two to exist side by side.
I want to set the record straight once and for all: we are not changing religious marriage. We respect and value the vital role religion has to play in our society. We understand how strongly some religious groups feel about the issue, which is why we are listening and we want to work with them. But there are a range of other views we need to listen to as well.
I want to urge people not to polarise this debate. This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs. This is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms.
Marriage is a right of passage for couples who want to show they are in a committed relationship, for people who want to show they have found love and wish to remain together until death do them part. Why should we deny it to people who happen to be gay or lesbian who wish to show that commitment and share it with their family, friends and everybody else? We should be proud of couples who love each other and a society that recognises their love as equal.
That is why you will not find us watering down this commitment.
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone