UK plans to introduce same-sex marriage
Birmingham - The British government has drawn up plans to introduce same-sex civil marriages before the next election in 2015, Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said on Saturday.
"I am delighted to announce today that in March, this government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples," she told her Liberal Democrat party's annual conference in Birmingham, central England.
"And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this parliament."
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced in Britain in December 2005, giving them similar rights to married heterosexual couples. However, the partnerships cannot legally be referred to as marriages.
"I believe that to deny one group of people the same opportunities offered to another is not only discrimination, but is not fair," Featherstone said.
The change is expected to win strong support among the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition.
But while Cameron is also said to back the plans, he could face opposition from traditionalist Conservatives, who believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Gay rights groups argue that maintaining a separation between marriage and civil partnerships perpetuates the notion that same-sex relationships are not as valid as those involving heterosexual couples.
Although activists welcomed the new proposals, they questioned the delay in the consultation until March.
Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "I am not convinced that there needs to be any consultation at all. The ban on same-sex marriage is homophobic discrimination and should be repealed."