A long-awaited official paper on same-sex marriage makes clear that the Church will be powerless to stop the change even if it mobilises hundreds of thousands of objections.
The Governmentâ€™s national consultation document, which was published this morning, asks the public whether they â€śagree or disagreeâ€ť with allowing homosexual couples to have civil weddings.
But it makes clear that, while the question is posed in principle, it is a matter of â€śhow not whetherâ€ť the change is introduced.
It also warns that the Government will take into account the various points raised in the consultation but â€śnot the number of responses receivedâ€ť.
Lynne Featherstone, the Equalities Minister, said that the launch of the paper was a â€śhugely important stepâ€ť, upholding principles of â€śfamily, society and personal freedomsâ€ť.
But opponents of the move immediately accused the Government of holding a â€śshamâ€ť consultationâ€ť in which opposition would be â€śignoredâ€ť.
In its first official statement on same-sex marriage, the Church of England committed itself to â€śthe traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one womanâ€ť.
A carefully worded statement, drafted by the Archbishops Council, hinted that the question of marriage could undermine its position as the established church.
Announcing the four-month consultation, Miss Featherstone and the Home Secretary Theresa May said the Government committed to ending the ban on same-sex couples marrying in register offices.
â€śI believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender,” said Miss Featherstone.
â€śToday is a hugely important step as we consider how to lift the ban on civil marriage for same-sex couples.
â€śThis is about the underlying principles of family, society, and personal freedoms.
“Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone.â€ť