The UK Parliament [official website] voted 400-175 [press release] on Tuesday in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The legislation [HC Bill 126, text], which was introduced late last month [JURIST report], would extend the application of the Marriage Act of 1949 [materials] to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples. The bill also contains exceptions for religious institutions that 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. The vote followed a heated debate, with many of Prime Minister David Cameron's [official websites] Conservative Party members calling the legislation morally wrong and not a public priority [Reuters report]. The bill has received strong support from Cameron, as well as the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats [party websites]. The bill now proceeds to the Public Bill Committee for consideration and debate, then to the House of Lords for final approval.
Same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] has been a controversial issue worldwide. Last month 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. Also last month, the Rhode Island House of Representatives approved a bill [JURIST report] that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. In December 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. 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] in December 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.