By DAVID WOODING
SEX is to be taken out of marriage law – so gay couples can tie the knot.
Ministers plan to solve a legal wrangle by ditching the historic requirment for newlyweds to consummate their union.
The rules say a marriage is not complete until a man and wife have “ordinary and complete” intercourse.
But the detailed description of what that means would make it impossible for gay and lesbian couples to fulfil their vows.
I’m not going to go into the precise wording of what consummation means by law for fear of readers crying “Too much information.” But suffice to say the coalition is considering a re-write of a key section of the Matrimonial Causes Act.
It would end the right to annul a marriage on the grounds of non-consummation.
Last night a furious MP claimed it would reduce marriage to the level of a civil partnership – an option already available to gay people.
Tory Edward Leigh accused Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone diminishing the meaning of wedlock for everyone.
He said: “If the government presses ahead with the redefinition of marriage, it will have profound effects on the ability of individuals to have a marriage annulled.
“This is something that is particularly important to Catholics for whom annulment is permitted by the church, but divorce is not.”
Ministers have been forced to consider dropping consummation so the law applies equally to straight and same-sex couples.
But in a letter to Ms Featherstone, Mr Leigh warns the legislation is complex and cannot be changed “at the stroke of a pen”.
And he warned of a rash of legal challenges if the need to consummate a marriage is removed.
“In legal terms, this would mean a couple are married the moment they complete either a civil or religious marriage ceremony,” he said.
“This would diminish marriage to the level of a legal contract and remove any link between marriage and children – or indeed between marriage and physical intimacy.
“This would constitute an unprecedented assault on the deeply-held beliefs of those who say a marriage is not complete until the act of consummation.
“It would fly in the face of assurances that this change would only affect marriages solemnised by a civil wedding since all marriages would be affected by this change.”
It is the latest legal controversy to engulf plans to allow gays and lesbians equal marriage rights.
Ministers have been warned they may need to re-write the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
It does not allow same-sex marriages and a change would be needed to allow two Queens or two Kings on the throne.
Gay marriage has caused a massive split in Tory ranks – despite PM David Cameron promising MPs a free vote.
Home Secretary Theresa May last week became the most senior minister to back marriages for all.
She said she was a strong supporter of marriage and it should be available to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.
But fellow Cabinet minister Owen Paterson is the most senior Tory MP to oppose the idea.