Gay marriages could soon be celebrated on military bases for the first time.
In a response to a parliamentary question, Minister for Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt revealed this week she had ordered a pilot study for Ministry of Defence sites to be registered for civil marriages and partnerships.
Christian Today reported last December that no same-sex couples in the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force had been married in a military chapel in spite of regulations making provision for such ceremonies being passed two years ago. This was because all 12 of the "sending Churches" responsible for the supplying chaplains to minister in the country's 190 military chapels are opposed to same-sex marriage.
Labour MP Madeleine Moon tabled a written question to Mordaunt last December asking how many military chapels are registered to conduct same-sex marriages.
Mordaunt, MP for Portsmouth and a Royal Navy reservist, replied at the time: "The Ministry of Defence allows same-sex marriages in military chapels, but none of the sending Churches using the chapels currently allows same-sex marriages to be conducted there.
"I have asked the chaplaincies of the three services to advise me on how Parliament's sanction of same sex-marriages may be fully implemented."
Moon then followed up with another question, to which Mordaunt replied that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 "reflects the Government's commitment that no religious organisation or representative will be forced to conduct or participate in same sex marriages."
She continued: "Recognising the established position of the Sending Churches which does not allow for the conduct of same-sex marriages within military chapels, I have recently directed that a pilot project is implemented to explore registering Ministry of Defence sites for civil marriages and partnerships; this includes same-sex unions. The timing of the project is being finalised but I anticipate that it will start shortly and run for a number of months."
A long-term ban on homosexual people in the armed services ended in 2000.
National Secular Society spokesman Keith Porteous Wood said: "Most people will be astonished that same-sex couples in the armed forces are denied the religious freedom to have a religious marriage in any military chapel, all of which are paid for from public funds.
"The law must be amended to prevent such marriages carried out by liberal religious organisations being vetoed by other religious denominations sharing the premises.
"Similarly, places of worship should have the legal freedom to conduct such marriages, under the principle of subsidiarity, as many do.
"The law should not be enforcing unpopular denominational religious discipline."