Same Sex Marriage – The Quadruple Lock Explained

In the first half of 2013 the Coalition government brought forward a Bill which would become the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Once passed it enabled civil and religious marriage between same sex couples. It was strongly opposed by socially conservative sections of society including the Catholic Church, Church of England an large elements of the Conservative party, both in and outside Parliament. The only major parties that opposed the legislation were UKIP, who at that time did not have any MPs, and the Democratic Unionist Party.

To calm fears that churches and other religious institutions would be forced to perform same sex marriages against their will the government proposed the ‘quadruple lock’. These four “cast iron” legal assurances, the government hopes, mean British courts and the European Court of Human Rights cannot be used to challenge decisions not to conduct gay marriages.

Maria Miller MP, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, stated “We [the government] are 100% clear that if any Church, Synagogue or Mosque does not want to conduct a gay marriage it will not- absolutely must not- be forced to hold it.”

The assurances:

14 of the 26 Lords Spiritual were in attendance. 9 voted for the amendment and 5 abstained. Following the vote the Church ceased to oppose the bill and focused on improving it.

1. The government ensured that no religious organisation or individual minister can be forced to marry same sex couples or be forced to permit this to happen on their premises.

2. The government created an ‘opt-in’ system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same sex couples.

  • This means churches, Mosques and Synagogues etc will conscientiously have to take the decision to allow gay marriage; it will not automatically be allowed.

3. The government amended the Equalities Act 2010 to ensure that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

4. The government ensured legislation doesn’t affect the Canon Law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales. As a result, if either Church wants to conduct a same-sex marriage, it would require a change to primary legislation at a later date and changes to canon law.

  • The 4th assurance means that the Church of England and Church in Wales cannot ‘opt-in’. They are effectively banned from conducting same sex marriages.

The Bill was passed without incident, receiving a bigger majority in the House of Lords than in the Commons.

House of Commons                                                   House of Lords

1st Reading ~ 24th January 2013                             1st Reading ~ 21st May 2013

2nd Reading ~ passed 400 – 175                              2nd Reading wrecking Amendment ~ defeated – 390 – 148

3rd Reading ~ passed 366 – 161                               3rd Reading ~ passed on a voice vote


The United Reformed Church, Dutch Church in London, Quakers, Unitarians, Oasis Church Waterloo, Liberal Judaism and The Movement for Reform Judaism are the only religious organisation in England and Wales that perform Same Sex Marriage. The Scottish Episcopal Church became the first Anglican Church to allow Same Sex marriages in June 2017 though SSM is governed by separate legislation in Scotland.


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