MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — In spite of widespread opposition from the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant denominations, the general public and his own party, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales.

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at a business conference in London July 26. Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders have expressed concern about Cameron's July 24 promise to legalize same-sex marriage by 2015. (CNS photo/Alastair Grant, pool via Reuters)

Cameron's declaration came July 24 during a meeting with gay, lesbian and transsexual communities at his Downing Street residence in London. He said he wanted to introduce legislation before the next general election, which must be called by 2015.

The prime minister also implied that he would attempt to force the churches to accept the legislation, saying they should not be “locking out people who are gay.”

Religious leaders have opposed any recognition of same-sex marriage and are expected to mount a massive effort to block any legislative effort to change the definition of marriage.

In June, the Catholic bishops' of England and Wales said a gay marriage law would leave the Church permanently vulnerable to legal action.

In a July 26 press statement, the bishops' conference reiterated its position. “The bishops' position has been made clear in their formal response to the government consultation,” the statement said. “They remain opposed to any attempt to redefine the institution of marriage in this country.”

Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party that governs in coalition with the Liberal Democrat Party, began by praising former the former Prime Minister Tony Blair for allowing homosexuals to enter into legally recognized civil partnerships.

“I just want to say that I am absolutely determined that this coalition government will follow in that tradition by legislating for gay marriage in this Parliament,” he said.

He added, “Of course this is very, very complicated and difficult issue for all the different churches, but I passionately believe that all institutions need to wake up to the case for equality, and the church shouldn't be locking out people who are gay, or are bisexual or are transgender from being full members of that church because many people with deeply held Christian views are also gay.”

He remarks came just hours before the Scottish Parliament announced July 25 that next year it will introduce a law to redefine marriage, with the first gay marriages expected to be held in 2015.

Speaking to STV News in Scotland, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the newly named leader of the Glasgow Archdiocese, said he believed that gay marriage would lead to criminalization of the expression of orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

“I could see myself going to jail possibly at some point over the next 15 years, if God spares me, if I speak out,” Archbishop Tartaglia said in the July 24 interview.

— By Simon Caldwell Catholic News Service