Same-sex couples are to be allowed to hold civil partnership ceremonies in churches and other places of worship in England and Wales, but no religious group will be forced to host them.
Currently marriage between people of the same gender is not legal in the UK, but civil partnerships were introduced in 2005 to give couples the same legal protection as if they were married.
Ms Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: "The government is advancing equality for LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) people and ensuring freedom of religion for people of all faiths.
"No religious group
will be forced to host a civil partnership registration, but for those who wish to do so this is an important step forward."
The service for civil ceremonies
is different from a church ceremony, and can contain no religious content.
Did you know that night-time weddings will be able to take place in the future, under plans outlined by the government as part of the Protection Of Freedoms Bill?
At the moment couples can only wed between 8am and 6pm, but the changes will allow marriages to take place 24 hours a day in England and Wales. This will also apply to civil partnerships.
The changes are expected to boost the demand for evening civil wedding ceremonies, especially in the summer months.
However, do not expect to be able to marry in a Las Vegas-style chapel where in the past some couples have wed after a night of heavy drinking! You will still be required to give at least 15 days advance notice.
Those with an eagle eye may have noticed a major change to our site with the addition of 9168 churches last night. This is a major project that we have been quietly working on with the Church of England for several months and will, at last, make churches more accessible to couples who do not regularly attend.
Unfortunately we overlooked one minor issue, and as we uploaded adverts for every Church of England church, from Guernsey to the Isle of Man, an automated email went to every single one of them confirming a total of £871000 in advertising
Never before have we answered quite so many phone calls in such a short period of time, while waiting for approval from the church media office to send an email to confirm that we are not charging churches for this service.
What has surprised us, from the calls we have received, is the variation from church to church in the understanding and interpretation of the Marriage Measure 2008. Some have asked for the wording on our site
to be changed to discourage "casual Christianity" they would like to make it clear that couples are expected to have a strong connection with the church where they would like to marry as well as regularly attending for at least six months and undertaking to join an ongoing "support" group. Other vicars are keen to make everyone welcome if the law allows it.
It will be interesting to see whether making the church more accessible to couples starts to correct the balance between civil ceremonies
and church weddings.
It is the ultimate question for anyone planning their wedding. How do we plan the perfect wedding
with the perfect atmosphere?
Sitting in a pew watching a radiantly relaxed bride and groom exchanging vows in front of a fully supportive congregation the answer struck me. The perfect wedding, in this instance, was not actually a wedding.
The bride and groom had married, quietly and without fuss, friends or relatives, exactly a year ago. Today their marriage was being blessed with a traditional ceremony in an Oxford
chapel, the bride wearing white and attended by bridesmaids, the groom being supported by his Best Man and Ushers. In choosing this unconventional route they had inadvertently but effectively removed most of the possible causes for tension and negativity at a wedding.
Will the bride turn up? Will any one object to the wedding? Has the correct paperwork been completed. Will the marriage last to its first anniversary?
The answer was already "yes".