Advocates of equal marriage, including Christians, have welcomed David Cameron's commitment to allow religious bodies to conduct same-sex ceremonies, while ensuring that none are forced.
The Anglican Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, put a cogent, biblical argument for extending marriage on the BBC 'Newsnight' programme this evening.
Meanwhile, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) says it is "delighted" by the latest statement from the Prime Minister that the opportunity for religious bodies to solemnise marriage for same-sex couples will be included in forthcoming legislative proposals for England and Wales.
Originally the proposal was only to allow civil marriage which would fall short of true equality and deny lesbian and gay couples the ability to express their faith in their commitment to each other.
LGCM has made it clear throughout that no faith, denomination or individual should be forced into performing a marriage for a same-sex couple but by the same token those for whom this is in keeping with their theology should not be deprived of this opportunity.
This was the Prime Minister's commitment in his statement, as well, it pointed out today.
The Rev Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of LGCM, said: "This is wonderful news, it feels like Christmas has come early. True equality is about all people having the same choices and this is what lesbian and gay couples will finally have regarding marriage if this legislation goes through. This is a bold step for the government to take."
Ms Ferguson is part of the lead couple in the Equal Love campaign who submitted an application to the ECHR eighteen months ago to bring about marriage equality for same -sex couples.
She added: "The possibility that I will finally be able to marry my partner in church, before God, and surrounded by my congregation, family and friends fills me with joy. Being an ordained minister I am also excited at the prospect of being able to perform marriage ceremonies for my congregation."
“David Cameron’s support for the right of religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriages is a welcome affirmation of religious freedom and gay equality,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is an atheist but works for freedom of belief and religion and spoke again this year at the Greenbelt Christian arts and debate festival.
He continued: “The Quakers, Unitarians, Liberal Jews [and others] want to conduct marriages for their lesbian and gay congregants. It is not a legitimate role of the law to block them.
“Sadly the Prime Minister is still declining to support the right of opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership if they wish. He plans to maintain the legal ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships. This is anti-heterosexual discrimination. Straight couples deserve equality," said Mr Tatchell.
“If the Prime Minister truly believes in equality he should end the bans on both same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
“It is wonderful that the government plans to end marriage discrimination against gay couples but it is very wrong for it to deny civil partnership equality to heterosexual couples,” he concluded.
But the Church of England, which will officially refuse to marry same-sex couples, and which has actively sought to deny other religious bodies as well as non-believers the right to do so, rapidly attempted to pour cold water on the Prime Minister's statement - which has also attracted criticism from Conservative Party right-wingers, religious and non-religious/
In a statement today, the Church of Enland said: "It is important to be clear that insistence on the traditional understanding of marriage is not knee-jerk resistance to change but is based on a conviction that the consequences of change will not be beneficial for society as a whole. Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted."