The British government has launched a long-awaited consultation process on how to give gay couples the right to civil marriage.

Britain’s Home Office launched the process on Thursday. It will allow Britons to have their say on the proposed changes by completing an online survey.

“I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender,” said Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

“Today is a hugely important step as we consider how to lift the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples. This is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms.

“Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone,” she added.

Under current law, same-sex couples can have a civil partnership but not a civil marriage.

The government intends to make the right to marry in civil premises, like a register office or hotel, available to everyone.

No changes are proposed to religious marriages. This will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman, even if a Church wishes to voluntarily solemnise same-sex marriages.

The consultation proposes further that civil partnerships are retained as an option for same-sex couples, even once civil marriage is legalised. Civil partnerships will continue to only be an option for same-sex couples and not heterosexual couples.

Civil partnership registrations on religious premises will continue as is currently allowed; on a voluntary basis for faith groups and with no religious content.

Individuals will, also for the first time, be able legally to change their gender without having to end their marriage.

British LGBT right group Stonewall welcomed the government’s consultation process.

“We’re delighted that this consultation is finally taking place. We look forward to this important measure being included in the Queen’s Speech on May 9 and being enacted as soon as possible,” said Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill.

LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, however, said that proposed changes are flawed because they still discriminate and hinder religious freedom.

“While we welcome the commitment to legalise same-sex civil marriages, we are unhappy that the government intends to maintain the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships and the ban on religious same-sex marriages, even if faith organisations wish to conduct them. This is not equality. It perpetuates discrimination,” he said.

“Having last year allowed religious organisations to host civil partnerships in places of worship, it seems inconsistent to now deny religions the option of hosting same-sex marriages,” added Tatchell.

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