(CNN) -- Early next year, British legislators will introduce a measure allowing gay marriage in England and Wales.
Maria Miller, the Minister for Women and Equalities, issued a statement Tuesday announcing the plans.
She added that the proposed legislation aims to "create watertight protections for religious organizations" that don't want to conduct same-sex marriages. Those groups wouldn't be forced to perform same-sex marriages by law; they would have a choice to "opt in."
In addition, the Church of England and "the Church in Wales" would be prohibited from performing such marriages unless the churches' governing bodies change canon law, which currently prohibits it, the ministry said in a news release.
"Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have in this country," Miller said in the release. "It binds us together, brings long-term commitment and stability, and makes society stronger. Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone.
"I feel strongly that, if a couple wish to show their love and commitment to each other, the state should not stand in their way," she continued. "These changes will strengthen marriage in our society and ensure that it remains a modern and vibrant tradition. And we are also building a fairer society for all."
Miller said the legislation would allow same-sex couples to get married in civil ceremonies and would guard against anyone in England or Wales, or within Europe, challenging the law in court.
European law protects religious freedom under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Elsewhere in Great Britain, the Scottish Parliament is moving toward its own legislation on same-sex marriage while the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a measure on the issue in October.
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