11/12/2012 07:57 GMT | Updated 31/01/2013 15:03 GMT

Gay Marriage: Government To Make It 'Illegal' For Church Of England To Conduct Same-Sex Weddings

It will be illegal for the Church of England to conduct same-sex weddings under government plans for gay marriage unveiled on Tuesday.

The measure, which will also affect the Church of Wales, forms one pillar of a so-called quadruple-lock designed to reassure religious groups they will not be forced to wed same-sex couples.

Culture secretary Maria Miller announced the coalition's response to the consultation on gay marriage in the Commons today amid deep divisions within the Conservative Party on the issue.

"I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which allowed that," she said.

Under the proposed legislation, religious groups that do want to conduct same-sex weddings will be able to opt-in.

However the Church of England will be given an extra layer of security against being forced to do so in an effort to win over opponents. For the Church to conduct gay weddings parliament would also have to change the law to permit it.

Opponents of gay marriage, including at least 100 Tory MPs, have raised concerns that religious organisations who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages will face legal challenge and be forced to do so by the European Court of Human Rights.

However the government is confident that its quadruple-lock, as well as an amendment to the Equalities Act, will prevent any challenge being successful.

Ministers have also been keen to point out that it will be the government that would be the defendant in any case brought by the ECHR, not individual religions or churches.

Speaking in the Commons, Miller hit back at opponents who have argued politicians should not get involved in marriage, arguing that parliament has sought "over the centuries to make marriage more equal and fair" and that marriage has had a "long history of evolution".

The government is confident of getting a Bill, set to be introduced in January, through the Commons and the Lords - however it may have to rely on the Labour Party to secure its passage.

Other measures included in the government's response to its consultation include the ability of same-sex couples in civil partnerships to convert them to marriages if they want and for individuals to change their gender without having to first end their marriage.

Labour's shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper welcomed the move to introduce gay marriage. "We should not, here in parliament, say some loving relationships have greater value than others," she said.

And she said it was "deeply disappointing" that opponents of gay marriage, including Tory MP Matthew Offord, had sought to link it with polygamy.

Cooper told the Commons she hoped Miller would "not be defensive" on the Bill and promote same-sex marriage confidently. "Marriage has never been a rigid and unchanging institution," she said.

SEE ALSO: Labour To Give Its MPs A Free Vote On Gay Marriage

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who used to be an Anglican minister, told MPs he had hoped there would not be such an explicit ban on the Church of England opting in to same-sex weddings if it wanted to. He said just as the Church initially had voted to keep slavery, "eventually they changed their mind".

Despite enjoying majority support across the Commons, opposition from MPs who are against the proposals is fierce.

Tory MP Peter Bone angrily told Miller that same-sex marriage was not included in any manifestos. "How dare the secretary of state suggest she has any right, any mandate, to bring in this legislation," he said.

Miller was accused of playing "God" by one MP and of overseeing a consultation worthy only of a "Liberian presidential election" by another.

SEE ALSO: Tory MP Denies Homophobia, Says He Once Fought A Gay Boxer