[JURIST] The British government introduced legislation [HC Bill 126, text] on Friday to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The bill would extend the UK's Marriage Act of 1949 [materials] to apply to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. The bill also contains exceptions [AP report] for clergy members who do not wish to perform same-sex weddings. Same-sex couples in England and Wales have been able to enter into civil partnerships since 2005 [BBC report], giving them many of the same legal rights as married couples. Although many members of the Conservative Party are likely to vote against the bill, the bill is expected to pass with strong support from the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and Prime Minister David Cameron [official websites]. The first parliamentary hearing on the bill is scheduled for February 5.
Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue around the world. On Tuesday the US Supreme Court [official website] received briefs [JURIST report] in two separate cases defending the constitutionality of laws that define marriage as strictly between one man and one woman. Last month JURIST guest columnist Paul Johnson opined that the effect of an ongoing human rights debate in the British Isles and the European Court of Human Rights may have a detrimental effect on the same-sex marriage debate [JURIST op-ed] in the UK. In the same time frame, the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, a non-profit corporation in Nevada which opposes same-sex marriage, petitioned the US Supreme Court [JURIST report] to grant certiorari to determine whether the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause requires Nevada to change its definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman to the union of two persons. In November the office of the Maryland Attorney General released an opinion [JURIST report] stating that same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses, allowing Maryland to become the ninth US state to allow same sex marriage after Maine and Washington [JURIST reports] enacted similar measures in November.