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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Equal marriage: will you be my Valentine?

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It has come as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for homosexual couples up and down the country. All couples with a lifelong commitment should be able to call it marriage, Culture Secretary Maria Miller told MPs ahead of that important vote last week, whether straight or gay, and it was a noble cry.

The pros and cons of civil partnership versus marriage are things which I have mentioned relatively regularly in this blog for some time. The amount of Parliament time and newspaper column inches devoted to this topic in the last two weeks alone has been immense and just goes to show the strength of feeling on the topic, doesn’t it?

And so it came to pass, that gay marriage – or equal marriage – sailed through the vote an initial vote, with a 225 majority polling yes, somewhat surprisingly after a fierce debate.

From a family law point of view though, the bottom line is this: for all the talk and debate and posturing, this change is a matter of wording only. The legal mechanism behind it is exactly the same and remains exactly the same whether you are entering into a civil partnership or getting married, and whether you are straight or gay, and accepting the fact that we are all equal. In many ways, the law already was equal, it was just the language that wasn’t. This was always a political and religious debate, and never a legal one.

Looking at it in that context, was it really worth the hand-wringing and House of Commons debating time? Aren’t there other bigger issues that should be occupying this amount of time for central government?

People may think I am being dismissive, but I am not. I know people feel very passionately about it. There are campaigners up and down the country who were popping Champagne corks as news of the vote filtered through and they were unanimous in speaking about how important a day it was. After all, 91% of gay people wanted equal marriage, 96% among those aged 35 and under, according to equality campaigner Stonewall.

However, the nuts and bolts of it – the mechanics – of the law in this area are simple and when the dust settles, the legal landscape is going to look little different on this issue than it did five years ago. It may just have a different hue.

I guess the real take out this week though, bearing in mind its Valentine’s Day, is that this is a victory for marriage and all the positive connotations that word still carries.

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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