LONDON: British lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill legalising same-sex marriage in England and Wales, paving the way for the first gay weddings in 2014.
MPs in the House of Commons decided not to oppose a number of minor amendments to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill proposed by the House of Lords, the upper parliamentary chamber.
The legislation is now expected to receive official assent from Queen Elizabeth II later this week after MPs agreed to changes such as ensuring protections for transgender couples.
Already on Monday night, jubilant gay rights activists danced outside parliament as the government-backed bill passed unopposed through the House of Lords. Some members there wore pink carnations.
A spokesman for the culture ministry, which is overseeing the new law, told AFP the bill would probably receive royal assent on Wednesday or Thursday.
“But we are looking at seeing the first gay weddings in the middle of 2014 because there are various issues to sort out, such as its impact on pensions,”the spokesman added.
Government computer systems also need to be updated to allow same-sex marriages to be registered, at an estimated cost of #2 million ($3 million, 2.3 million euros).
But the government hopes legalising gay marriage will bring an overall boost to the economy, estimating that the change could bring in up to #14.4 million a year for caterers, hotels and the rest of the wedding industry.
The bill survived a stormy passage through parliament, with dozens of members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s own Conservative party voting against it.
Tory minister Gerald Howarth criticised the way the government had backed the bill.
“I have to say that it is astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted against, has been bulldozed through both Houses and just two hours of debate tonight is an absolute parliamentary disgrace,” he said.
“I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it.”An attempt in the Lords last month to kill off the legislation with a “wrecking amendment” failed.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads Cameron’s junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, said the new law would ensure that gay couples felt “recognised and valued, not excluded”.
Gay rights activists have vowed to press on for equal marriage in the United Kingdom’s other two nations, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
But opponents of gay marriage have warned that the legislation will “come back to bite” Cameron.