Same sex couples in England and Wales will be able to marry from 29 March next year, the government has announced.
The news comes just five months after the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act completed its contentious passage through parliament and received royal assent. The first same sex wedding ceremonies had originally not been expected before the summer.
Culture Secretary Maria Miller described the announcement as “the next step in the evolution of marriage”.
“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.”
From June, some consulates, as well as military bases and chapels overseas, will be also able to conduct same sex ceremonies.
Later in the year, couples already in civil partnerships should be able to convert these into marriages, added the Minister. People will also be able to change their legal gender while remaining married.
Under the Act, religious organisations will not be required to conduct same sex ceremonies unless they choose to do so, and the Churches of England and Wales will not be allowed to conduct them at all.
The chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, hailed the announcement.
“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.”