LONDON Britain plans to allow same-sex unions to be celebrated in places of worship, removing a key legal distinction between homosexual civil partnerships and heterosexual marriage, newspapers reported on Sunday.
The move would lift the ban on religious ceremonies for the registration of gay unions imposed when Britain legalised civil partnerships six years ago.
The government may also propose scrapping the legal definition of marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, allowing gay men and women to call their partners husbands or wives, the Sunday Times said.
Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone will launch a consultation on the issue next week, the Sunday Telegraph said.
Critics say restricting homosexuals to civil partnerships rather than marriage is a form of discrimination, even when, as in Britain, there little or no difference in the legal rights conferred.
If passed into law the plan would bring Britain closer to countries such as the Netherlands and Canada where gays can legally marry.
The issue touches on religious sensitivities and will add to pressure on the Anglican Church of England, which is split between traditionalists and liberal priests on the subject.
Quakers are keen to celebrate same-sex unions as marriages, while the Liberal Judaism organisation already has Jewish rituals for same-sex partnerships.
The Roman Catholic Church and Islam only sanction marriage between a man and a woman.
Civil partnerships, introduced in Britain in 2005, cannot legally be conducted in a place of religious worship, and cannot contain any element of religious service.
(Reporting by Tim Castle)