Members of the British House of Commons on Feb. 5 voted 400 to 175 for a second reading of a bill to legalize civil marriage in England and Wales.
"As the last piece of the legislative jigsaw providing equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain, this is a truly historic step forward. We’re absolutely delighted that MPs have demonstrated so overwhelmingly that they’re in touch with the 21st century," Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the UK’s largest LGBT civil rights group, Stonewall, said.
He continued, “Happily, the size of the Commons majority seen tonight – much larger than for most normal government business and somewhat larger than we expected – will make it very difficult for the House of Lords to suggest that the bill should be rejected. However, we still anticipate, as always, a tough battle in the lords.”
Maria Miller, secretary of state for culture, media and sport and minister for women and equalities opened the debate on the bill, which lasted for about six hours.
Yvette Cooper, shadow secretary of state for home department and shadow minister for women and equalities, took up the role of leading the opposition.
The legislation being considered would legalize marriage for same-sex couples and also allow religious organizations to opt-in and conduct such marriages. At the same time, the bill would provide protections for religious organizations that choose not to sanction gay marriages.
Also, same-sex couples already in civil partnerships in the United Kingdom could easily convert their designation to married
The measure was introduced in the House of Commons on Jan. 24 and given a first reading.
At the second reading, members debated the principle of the bill and then voted.
“Tonight’s vote shows Parliament is very strongly in favor of equal marriage,” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said. “I genuinely believe that we will look back on today as a landmark for equality in Britain.”
Prior to the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron told the press, according to The New York Times, “I am a strong believer in marriage. It helps people commit to each other, and I think it is right that gay people should be able to get married too.”
The vote was only a qualified victory for Cameron, About half of his party’s lawmakers rejected the proposals or abstained. Strong support from the left-leaning Labour Party and Liberal Democrats ensured the victory.
Bills that pass a second reading go to a public bill committee for consideration — this would be where each part of the bill is debated and possibly amended.
“We’re grateful to the thousands of Stonewall supporters, many of them straight, who played a big part in tonight’s success by contacting their MPs in support. If you were one of them, thank you,” Summerskill said.