Maria Miller has sought to head off claims that she privately opposes gay marriage by writing a column in The Independent firmly supporting the proposed change. Her intervention follows concerns that despite being the government's new equalities minister Miller privately opposes extending civil rights to gay people.
"The state should not stop two people undertaking civil marriage unless there are good reasons, and I believe being gay is not one of them," she writes in her column in the Independent on Wednesday morning. "When it comes to the state's role in marriage, I and the government think a change is needed.
"At the moment the state does not support same-sex couples in the same way that it supports a man and woman choosing to celebrate their commitment," Miller goes on. "Many people in civil partnerships already refer to their partner as their 'husband' or 'wife' , but they are not technically 'married' and do not have the option to become so. I see no reason to perpetuate this.
Maria Miller wasn't an MP when Labour passed the Civil Partnerships Act in 2004, which allowed same-sex unions granting almost identical rights as traditional marriages. But since entering Parliament in 2005 Miller voted against allowing same-sex couples an equal right to fertility treatment and also opposed same-sex couples being allowed to adopt children.
This patchy voting record on equalities prompted widespread concern a fortnight ago when she was made equalities minister. She has also been absent from several other "equality votes", and her record on abortion issues - she has supported lowering to 20 weeks the maximum termination date in the past - has given women's rights groups concern.
The government seems likely to introduce gay marriage legislation early next year, with MPs almost certain to be given a free vote on the issue. A consultation has produced a record 228,000 responses, but ministers won't say at this stage what proportion of these are in favour or against the proposed change.
Traditionalists opposed to gay marriage are likely to stage a series of demonstrations at Tory Party Conference in Birmingham next month. Privately Tories worry that the issue is costing them members in heartland areas, with some party agents reporting mass cancellations of subscriptions by Church of England voters.
The government insists that churches which don't want to conduct gay marriages won't be forced to; but this has not allayed the concerns of traditionalists, who are opposed to any form of marriage for same-sex couples because they claim it is forbidden by the Bible.
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