British government officials announced plans Monday to legalize same-sex marriage within the next four years.
"I am delighted to announce today that in March, this government will begin a formal consultation on how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples," Equality Minister Lynne Featherstone told her Liberal Democrat party's annual conference at Birmingham in central England.
Civil partnerships were introduced in Britain in 2005. Under that law, gay couples have the same rights as married heterosexual couples but cannot be referred to as married.
Featherstone said that while civil unions were a "welcome first step," she pledged to continue to fight "prejudice and discrimination in all its forms."
The change is expected to face opposition from traditional conservatives and religious organizations.
"I would have thought there were other priorities at a time like this," the Daily Mail quoted Former Tory Cabinet Minister Lord Tebbit.
"There can be no such thing as gay marriage," he said. "Marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others."