Following on from my previous blog post entitled ‘29th March 2014, save the date: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013’, the day is finally dawning, with some same-sex couples planning on marrying at 1 minute past midnight on the 29th March 2014. So what does this all mean for same-sex couples?
As per my previous blog post, and probably the most obvious change, same-sex couples will now be allowed to legally marry. Furthermore when the act comes in to force, under s.9[i] anyone who is registered in a civil partnership will be able to convert that partnership into a marriage. Under s.9(6) when a civil partnership is converted into a marriage, the civil partnership will come to an end and the marriage will be treated as though it had existed from the date of the civil partnership. However, the act doesn’t provide a mechanism within which civil partnerships registered abroad can be converted into a marriage within England and Wales. These civil partnerships will continue as civil partnerships governed by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which remains in force.
S.11(1) of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 states that ‘in the law of England and Wales, marriage has the same effect in relation to same sex couples as it has in relation to opposite sex couples.’ According to schedule 3 part 2 of the Act, ‘“husband” includes a man who is married to another man; “wife” includes a woman who is married to another woman’. However, schedule 4 part 3 of the Act does not change the laws surrounding adultery. It is stated that ‘only conduct between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery for the purposes of this section’. Therefore it is not possible for an individual in a same sex marriage to file for adultery.
Under schedule 4 part 7 the government can enact future provisions limiting the equivalence of all marriages. Currently where an occupational pension scheme provides survivor benefits, the scheme only has to take into account the rights accrued from the date the Civil Partnership Act came into force. Under this schedule the Secretary of State is required to carry out a review relating to occupational pension schemes. This review must be published by 1 July 2014.
Same sex couples can now both marry and become civil partners, thus allowing them to decide which they would prefer. S. 15 of the Act states that ‘the Secretary of State must arrange for the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in England and Wales to be reviewed, and for a report on the outcome of the review to be produced and published.’ The Act allows the marriage of a same sex couple in any appropriately registered building including armed forces chapels and in accordance with Quaker or Jewish customs where the relevant governing authority has opted in. The Church of England remains opted-out. There is no compulsion on any person to conduct a same sex marriage according to religious rites. A review of this is to be conducted and a report of which should be published by January 2015.
Same sex marriages are not currently legal within Northern Ireland and whilst the Act anticipates same sex marriages becoming legal in Scotland, at this time this is not the case. It follows that if a civil partnership is dissolved within Northern Ireland or Scotland, this will also bring the marriage to an end in England and Wales.
Schedule 3 of the Act states that within legislation ‘a reference to persons who are not married but are living together as a married couple is to be read as including a reference to a same sex couple who are not married but are living together as a married couple’.
The ability of two persons of the same sex to marry is extremely important to transgendered people because the position until the now has been that where a person in a marriage is issued with an Interim Gender Recognition Certificate it has the effect of making the marriage voidable. An individual would currently not be issued with a full Gender Recognition Certificate until the marriage has been annulled. Therefore, prior to the new Act a happily married couple would have to divorce if one of the parties to the marriage wished to officially change their gender. This also applied in the same way to those in a civil partnership. Schedule 5 of the new Act covers this issue and allows an interim recognition certificate to be issued to a married person and as long as their spouse consents to the continuation of the marriage following the issue of a full gender recognition certificate, then a full certificate must be given. This is applicable to civil partners whose partnership is converted into a marriage. The Act also covers foreign marriages and their continuation following a change of gender.
I don’t know if any of you tuned in to the Grammy’s this year, if you did you may have seen 34 straight and same sex couples say ‘I do’. The controversy following this event highlighted that there is still a battle to be fought for same sex marriage in many countries across the world; the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is a brilliant step toward equality within England and Wales and one that we should be proud of.
[i] Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/30/contents.
Photo by mnd.ctrl via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.