Same-sex marriage is a legally recognized marriage between two men or two women. It has recently become accepted in many parts of the world, but is an extremely controversial issue in the United States, for example. Some states have legitimized it, but, in general, it is intensely resisted by social conservatives. Many GLBT advocates consider equal access to marriage rights by same-sex partners to be a fundamental right. It has been variously introduced by normal legislation, by judicial ruling, or by referendum.
At its simplest, same-sex marriage rights are often advocated for by those on the progressive left and opposed by conservatives and those on the political right. This masks an interesting question for understanding the politics of same-sex marriage. Some people - primarily libertarians - have advocated that the way to resolve the issue over same-sex marriage is to "get government out of the marriage business": that is, for the government to stop granting recognition to heterosexual marriages. Instead, this position holds that individual churches and groups can freely choose to marry whoever they wish to.
In some countries, even after introducing "marriage in all but name" solutions like Britain's civil partnerships law, there has still been a demand for marriage equality, with advocates approaching it from both ends - gay partners wanting to get a 'full' marriage rather than a civil partnership, and with heterosexual partners wanting to get a civil partnership, often for secularist reasons, as a civil partnership does not have the religious connotation of marriage.
"Liberal religions", such as Reform Judaism or Unitarian Universalism, often will perform such ceremonies even without civil authority. Same-sex marriage is opposed by Catholicism, Islam, and conservative Protestant denominations.
Civil partnerships have been allowed since 2005 under the Civil Partnerships Act. This sets up a separate system of marriage-like benefits that is equivalent in all ways except the formalities: it is referred to legally as a 'civil partnership', and a divorce is referred to as a 'dissolution'. Additionally, civil partnership ceremonies can only be performed by registrars while marriages may be performed by either registrars or registered clergy.
Some religious ministers have blessed civil partnerships in wedding-like ceremonies after the civil partnership ceremonies; in the Church of England this has led to controversy and the resignation of one priest. The Church of England has also published a pastoral statement on civil partnerships which notes that there is ambiguity over what counts as a civil partnership: "people in a variety of relationships will be eligible to register as civil partners, some living consistently within the teaching of the Church, others not".
In 2014 same-sex marriage began in England and Wales following legislation by the British Parliament. The legislation gave clergy and registrars a right of conscientious objection, a right that does not exist for registrars in relation to civil partnerships. Civil partnerships continue to exist alongside same-sex marriages, but at present only for same-sex couples. Similar legislation introduced same-sex marriage in Scotland later the same year, but it is thought unlikely that Northern Ireland will follow the rest of the country in the near future.
In the United States, marriage rights for a time differed by state. In 2015, however, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country.
- The Guardian, Gay priest resigns after furore over church blessing.
- Church of England, House of Bishops issues pastoral statement on Civil Partnerships.