More than 14 religious leaders on Wednesday welcomed the Scottish government's introduction of a draft gay marriage bill.

The government unveiled its proposal, titled Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, and opened a consultation on its implementation. After the close of the public consultation in March, the government will deliver a final version to the Scottish parliament, where a vote is expected sometime near the end of 2013.

The plan endorses allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in a church and other religious premises. Religious organizations would need to “opt in” to perform such marriages.

“Today Scotland has taken a huge step forward towards full equality for LGBT people,” Tom French, policy coordinator for the Equality Network, is quoted as saying by Gay Star News. “Equally religious bodies would have the freedom to choose for themselves whether to conduct same-sex marriages. Currently all religious bodies are wrongly banned from doing so regardless of their beliefs.”

“These proposals are fair and progressive, and as a result we expect the final legislation to get the backing of a clear majority in parliament.”

More than 14 Scottish religious leaders welcomed the proposed legislation.

“Scottish Unitarians warmly welcome the draft bill and its provisions to allow religious bodies to conduct same-sex marriages,” said the Rev. Maud Robinson, a Unitarian minister from Edinburgh.

The United Reformed Church, the Quakers, Episcopalians and Liberal Jews are also supportive.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland oppose the government's plans.

“The Catholic Church has made its view very clear that the redefinition of marriage is unwise and unnecessary,” said Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland.