While most UK LGBTI groups have welcomed the news that the government aims to legalise gay civil marriages by 2015, they do have some concerns.

On Friday, Britain’s Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, said that current legislation only allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into civil partnerships and not marriage is “not only discrimination, but is not fair”.

Speaking at the Liberal Democrat party conference, Featherstone said that Britain is a world leader in gay rights.

“That is why 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.

“And this would allow us to make any legislative changes necessary by the end of this Parliament. Civil partnerships were a welcome first step – but as our constitution states, this party rejects prejudice and discrimination in all its forms,” said Featherstone.

The announcement was warmly welcomed by LGBTI rights organisation Stonewall, which said that it “looks forward to the government honouring its pledge that this legislation will be passed by 2015”.

Stonewall questioned, however, why the government is delaying consultation on the issue until March 2012.

Activist Peter Tatchell, coordinator of the Equal Love campaign was also critical of the fact that the government has said that any new legislation on same-sex marriage will explicitly exclude same-sex religious marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.

This means that while same-sex couples would be allowed to legal marry they would not be able to have this officiated by churches or religious groups, even by those willing to do so. The current law limiting civil partnerships to same-sex couples would also continue.

“Given that the government has no plans to scrap civil partnerships, Featherstone is wrong to rule out in advance any discussion on opening them up to opposite-sex couples,” said Tatchell, who believes that there are many heterosexuals who would like a civil partnership.

“The government’s proposed continuation of the ban on gay religious marriages is another surprise,” he added.

“It is an infringement of religious freedom to dictate to faith organisations that they cannot carry out weddings for same-sex partners, especially since the government has already agreed to lift a similar ban on same-sex religious civil partnerships,” said Tatchell.

Civil partnerships between same-sex couples were legalised in the UK in 2005. It is believed that Prime Minister David Cameron is a strong supporter of same-sex civil marriages being legalised.

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