I recognise that many people in the United Kingdom have strong feelings about the role of the Church and marriage in our society and its continued importance in shaping who we are as people.
As you will know, Under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, members of the clergy are not under any duty to solemnise marriages of same-sex couples. During the committee and report stages of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths Bill, Lord Faulkner put forward an amendment to remove or alter this exemption, which was then debated but subsequently withdrawn in both cases. Lord Faulkner was clear that it was not his intention to put these matters to the vote.
The Government has always been clear that no religious organisation should be forced to marry same-sex couples, although religious organisations may of course opt in by providing a blessing to same-sex couples should they decide to do so. For this reason, the amendment is unnecessary because the Church of England already has the ability to opt in using its own devolved legislative powers.
With regards to the position in Northern Ireland, this is a devolved matter in accordance with the Belfast Agreement. However, if this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government's policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage.
Restoring the Executive remains the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s key priority and she has said that she will continue to work closely with Northern Ireland's political parties to restore strong, inclusive devolved government at the earliest opportunity. This will ensure that issues such as same-sex marriage can be addressed by locally elected politicians accountable to the people of Northern Ireland.