Marriage for same-sex couples has officially become legal in England and Wales. The historic milestone comes 47 years after homosexuality was first decriminalized in the British Isles.
Same-sex couples flocked to the altar on Saturday as gay marriage officially became legal in England and Wales amid widespread popular support.
Civil unions, which carry all of the rights associated with marriage, have been legal in England and Wales since 2005. Last year, parliament passed legislation officially opening marriage to same-sex couples. The law went into effect overnight on Friday.
"This weekend is an important moment for our country," said conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who supports same-sex marriage. "Put simply, in Britain it will no longer matter whether you are straight or gay - the state will recognize your relationship as equal."
Religious organizations are exempt from carrying out gay marriages. The Quakers and Liberal Judaism are supporting gay marriage. But the Church of England, the largest denomination in Britain, has been divided over the issue. Last month, the House of Bishops told the Anglican clergy not to marry same-sex couples.
“I think the Church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being,” Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told the Guardian newspaper.
Broad popular support
According to a survey for BBC radio, 68 percent of those polled supported gay marriage, while 26 percent were opposed it.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Great Britain in 1967. But in the 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government passed a law banning the "promotion" of homosexuality by schools and local authorities, or representing it as a "pretended family relationship." That law was repealed by parliament in 2003.
slk/crh (AP, AFP)