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Same-sex weddings to begin in MarchMen exchange wedding rings The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaderships all backed the proposals Continue reading the main story

The first same-sex weddings can take place from 29 March 2014, Equalities Minister Maria Miller says.

Initially it was thought the first same-sex marriage in England and Wales would not take place until the summer.

Couples wishing to be among the first to marry will need to give formal notice of their intention to marry on 13 March.

It comes after the government's controversial legislation on the issue received Royal Assent in July.

The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat leaderships all backed the proposals.

BBC political correspondent Norman Smith says it is understood the government, following the passing of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, has been able to put in place the necessary arrangements much faster than previously thought.

'Ms Miller said: "Marriage is one of our most important institutions, and from 29 March 2014 it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex.

"This is just another step in the evolution of marriage and I know that many couples up and down the country will be hugely excited that they can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love and commitment to each other by getting married."

Ms Miller added that she was "working hard" to ensure that couples who wanted to convert civil partnerships into marriages - and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married - would be able to do so before the end of next year.

From June, people will also be able to take part in same-sex weddings in some British consulates and armed forces bases overseas or in military chapels.

'Historic step'

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights campaign group Stonewall, said he was "delighted" at the announcement.

He said: "This historic step will mean that, for the first time, every gay person in England and Wales will finally enjoy exactly the same rights as their heterosexual friends and family."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said on Twitter: "Great news that same sex weddings will happen from 29th March 2014 #savethedate."

Under the terms of the bill, religious organisations will have to "opt in" to offering weddings, with the Church of England and Church in Wales being banned in law from doing so.