25/02/2012 06:11 GMT

Lynne Featherstone Challenges Church's Position On Same-Sex Marriages

The Church does not have the exclusive right to say who can marry, Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone has said in The Daily Telegraph.

Promising to press ahead with plans for same-sex marriages, Featherstone said that the State was entitled to make changes to the union, and that the Church did not 'own' marriage.

With the government due to begin consultations on introducing "equal marriage" next month, she acknowledged the issue provoked strong feelings, but cited the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury in support of her position.

"Some believe the government has no right to change it at all; they want to leave tradition alone," she said.

"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.

"(Marriage) is owned by neither the state nor the Church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said. So it is owned by the people."

Featherstone appealed to people not to "polarise" the debate about same-sex marriages.

"This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs. This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms," she said.

While Prime Minister David Cameron and the Lib Dems strongly support same-sex marriages, there is fierce opposition among traditionalists in both the Church and the Conservative Party.

Lord Carey accused Ms Featherstone of putting an "unwarranted slant" on his words.

"When I said that not even the Church owns it (marriage), I meant that the Church has no authority to change the definition of marriage as far as Christian thinking is concerned - there is a givenness to it," he told the Telegraph.

"Lynne's logic implies the will of the people is sovereign. So let's suppose that in 10 years' time it is proposed that, as people are living in multiples of four, we may call that marriage also."