Maria Miller has told ITV News she hopes the fact that same-sex marriage will remain illegal within the Church of England will provide reassurance for MPs opposed to the new law.
The Equalities Minister stressed repeatedly in her statement to the Commons outlining the plans that the new proposals balanced the rights of gay couples with people of faith who opposed the change.
But the exchanges that followed underlined that sharp division remains within the Conservative Cabinet minister's own party, as ITV News's Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship reports:
Labour MP Chris Bryant (Rhondda), a former Anglican clergyman, said the same-sex marriage legislation should not include such an "ultimate lock" which prevented the church from easily changing its mind in future.
Under Government legislation outlined in the Commons, it will be illegal of the Church of England and the Church of Wales to marry same-sex couples, even if some of their clergy want to carry out the ceremonies.
To shouts of protest from the Tory benches, Mr Bryant asked Maria Miller:
Will you consider not putting such an ultimate lock on the Church of England so there is genuine freedom for the church so that one day, just like the Church of England all voted to keep slavery and kept slavery for another 30 years, they can eventually change their mind?
The Equalities Minister replied:
The Church of England can, of course, come forward with a change of view at any time and we can consider the appropriate action to be taken.
Amid the backbencher opposition to same-sex marriage, Tory MP Mark Pawsey (Rugby) said the proposals could impact whether parents or people planning to have children choose to marry.
He said nearly half of the babies born in the UK had parents who were not married and added:
Given that marriage rates in Spain and Holland collapsed after same-sex marriage was introduced there, are you not concerned that even fewer people intending to have children will choose to get married?
The same-sex proposals outlined by Conservative minister Maria Miller were met with entrenched opposition from the Tory backbenchers behind her.
Martin Vickers told her it was a "major social change that many of those we represent find unacceptable."
He said the measure should be allowed to "evolve rather than be pushed through".
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said the letters he had received from his constituents suggested 98 per cent were against the plan.
Sir Roger told MPs he chaired the committee hearings on the legislation which enabled civil partnerships, and said assurances were then given that it would not lead to same-sex marriages.
Mrs Miller told him there were "important differences of perception" between civil partnerships and marriage.
St Botolph's, which describes itself as an "inclusive church in the City of London", has protested the Government's announcement that the new legislation still makes it illegal for the established Churches of England and Wales to conduct same-sex marriages.
We don't want to be 'banned' from #equalmarriage we want to celebrate them!
In her statement to the Commons, Maria Miller said today's proposals protected "important religious freedoms while ensuring that same-sex couples have the same freedom to marry as opposite-sex couples".
The Conservative Equalities Minister later pleaded for both sides in the row to show "respect" as she was confronted with opposition to the plan from MPs in her own party.
Shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper condemned the "hysterical" language used by Tory MPs and churches opposed to the move.
The Government has said its plans to legislate same-sex marriage build on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of religion.
The "quadruple" legal lock included in the face of the legislation is as follows:
- No religious body or individual minister can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.
- It will be unlawful for religious organisations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organisation's governing body has expressly 'opted in'.
- The Equality Act 2010 is to be amended to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.
- The legislation will explicitly state that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples and that Canon Law, which bans same-sex weddings, will continue to apply.
– Maria Miller, outlining the same-sex marriage proposals
The Government has to balance the importance of treating all couples equally and fairly with respect for religious organisation's rights for their own beliefs.
We need to be fair to same sex couples. The state should not be banning them from such a great institution.
Equally, we need to be fair to people of faith and (so) religious protections that I will set out will ensure that fairness is at the heart of our proposals.
Equalities Minister Maria Miller has confirmed the Government will extend marriage to same-sex couples in a civil ceremony and allow those religious organisations which wish to conduct gay marriages to do so.
Outlining the plans in the Commons, she said a "quadruple lock" in law will also be offered to protect religious institutions and individuals from being forced to hold the same-sex ceremonies.
My statement in the House today on Equal Marriage consultation results is at 12.30