Same-sex marriages will be allowed to take place from 29 March in England and Wales – months earlier than planned.
Under original proposals same-sex weddings were to start in the summer, but the Government announced on Monday they would begin much earlier.
“This is just another step in the evolution of marriage”, Culture Secretary Maria Miller said – in a statement described as “astonishing” by Coalition for Marriage.
From the end of March venues including hotels and country houses which are already registered for marriages between a man and a woman will be allowed to host same-sex weddings.
British citizens abroad will be allowed to have a same-sex marriage in British consulates and military bases from June 2014, if their host country agrees.
For churches in England and Wales to have a same-sex marriage on their premises, both the denomination and the individual place of worship have to opt in.
Under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, the Church of England cannot opt in to host the ceremonies.
“It is very sad that the Government appears to be celebrating putting the rights of one minority group above the rights and beliefs of the majority”, said Colin Hart, the Campaign Director of Coalition for Marriage.
“It is an astonishing comment from the Secretary of State to say this is just another step in the evolution of marriage, what is the Government envisaging as the next step?”, he commented.
Maria Miller commented: “Marriage is one of our most important institutions, and from 29 March 2014 it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex.”
The news was welcomed by Nick Clegg as well as the Labour Party.
The Bill that redefined marriage in England and Wales received Royal Assent in July, and similar legislation is being considered in Scotland.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has twice voted against the redefinition of marriage.
Last month it was revealed that the Methodist Church is consulting its 250,000-plus members on whether it should “revise” its understanding of marriage in light of the new gay marriage law.
And in November a Church of England report said gay unions should be marked by special church services as an act of worship.
The Church claimed that such services would not be “blessings” or part of “liturgy”, but others said it would mark a huge shift away from the Bible’s teaching.