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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

What does gay marriage really mean?


The early hours of Saturday March 29, 2014, saw the first gay marriages in England and Wales after a change in the law allowed same-sex couples to be joined in matrimony rather than “just civil partnershipped”. The debate on whether this should or shouldn’t happen seems to have been running for years.

Looking at the legal history, persons of the same sex were not allowed to get “married” at all. However, opinions over time changed and in 2004 the Civil Partnership Act was passed, coming into effect in December 2005. Civil partnerships gave same sex couples the same legal rights and responsibilities of a marriage between a man and a woman.

However, to some, having a civil partnership still gave the impression of not all couples being equal, despite the fact that, in law, there was little difference. In 2010, Lord Tebbit confirmed this for many when he said: “We should be utterly, completely and absolutely clear that a civil partnership is not a marriage, cannot be a marriage, never will be a marriage and should be treated entirely separately from marriage.”

Some people still hold this view. Seeing comments insisting that that marriage and civil partnerships are “completely different” impacts negatively and perpetuates the offensive notion that relationships between same-sex couples are not as stable, rich or valid as those between a man and a woman. When viewed in this light, you can see why some people campaigned so vigorously for the introduction of same-sex marriage.

So, finally, we have equal marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force on the 13th of March 2014. It allows

  1. same sex couples to have a civil marriage from the 29th of March 2014 i.e. only ceremonies in a register office or other approved venue (like a hotel/beach) but not in churches or other holy institutions (civil marriages can only be legally possible between a man and a woman if the religious institution “opted-in”). From June 2014, same sex couples will be able to be married in British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions, as well as on British military bases;
  2. couples in a Civil Partnership have the right to convert that partnership into a marriage as from the end of 2014;
  3. a person to legally change their gender without having to end their marriage;
  4. from June 2014 same sex couples will be able to be married in British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions, as well as on British military bases

Same-sex marriages are allowed in England, Wales and Scotland but not Northern Ireland

This Act confers the same rights on same-sex marriage as a heterosexual marriage and the only difference, in legal terms are:-

  • in divorce proceedings, adultery can only be citied as a grounds for divorce of a heterosexual marriage as adultery can only involve sexual conduct between a man and a woman; and,
  • non-consummation will not be grounds for divorce on a gay marriage.

So will this latest change to the law leave everyone happy? The debate will undoubtedly rage on with some believing real equality has still not been reached. Why should churches be allowed to say no to same sex marriage if the law allows it, for instance? However, the hope is that this latest step in the road to will satisfy many same sex couples seeking the same conjugal legal status as heterosexual couples.

Quyen Trickett
Family solicitor, Bournemout

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