Current Affairs

FAQ: Nine things you might want to know about the new equal marriage law in England and Wales

Joseph McCormick December 12, 2013
bookmarking iconBookmark Article has many readers across the world, and in particular the UK. We have been sent many questions around the Government’s announcement that the first same-sex marriages will take place in March. Here are some of the questions and the answers.

When will the first same-sex marriages take place?

The first same-sex marriages will take place on 29 March.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced this week that unmarried couples will be able to tie the knot from 12.01am on Saturday 29 March. One couple has already announced their intention to marry at 12.01am on 29 March. Good luck!

The rules are slightly different if you are already in a civil partnership, already married abroad, or posted on a military base outside of the UK – for these, see below.

Why can’t couples get married straight away?

In some other countries, same-sex marriages were held almost immediately after the law being , while in England and Wales they will take longer. This was also the case with civil partnerships, where there was a year’s wait. In part it is to ensure that all of the relevant changes are made to secondary legislation that refers to a married couple. There are also other administrative changes to be made too. PinkNews published a costing of these changes earlier this year.

If I am already in a civil partnership, when can we convert that to a marriage, and how?

For couples already in a civil partnership, the timeframe is slightly different. The Government has not yet announced when those in civil partnerships will be able to do so, other than hopefully by the end of 2014.

Couples will either have to fill in and send off a form to convert to marriage, or will be given the option of having another ceremony to convert (unfortunately those who wish to hold another ceremony will also need to wait until the further announcement, and cannot convert early though doing so). The conversion will most likely cost a small fee.

Why can’t we convert our civil partnerships at the same time unmarried couples can get married? 

The DCMS has told PinkNews that the reason it will take longer to bring in the process to convert civil partnerships to marriage is because it is a new process, which has not taken place before. While same-sex marriage, both civil and religious builds on legislation and guidelines already in place, converting from a civil partnership is different.

Expanding on changes which need to be made, in order to allow civilly partnered couples to convert, the DCMS said that IT systems would need to be changed, with training and guidance for operational staff, legislative changes, and the design of new application forms.

Comparisons are often mistakenly made with France, which has a civil solidarity pact. It is not possible to simply convert from the pact to a marriage, and the legal protections are different.

Do I have to convert my civil partnership to a marriage when the law changes?

The short answer is no, however it is more complicated than that. Depending on the conclusion of a review of civil partnerships due to take place in the next year, there may be several possible outcomes.

1. Civil partnerships could be extended to opposite-sex couples, in which case couples not wishing to convert to marriage could stay civilly partnered and would not have to do anything. (If this is the case, presumably straight married couples would be given the option to convert to civil partnership, however that is way down the line.)

The DCMS has also confirmed that the review is not the reason behind the delay, but the reasons noted above are.

2. Civil partnerships may be abolished altogether, in which case it is expected the Government would automatically recognise all civilly partnered couples as married automatically, without having to convert (there may still be a form to fill in).

3. The Government could ‘grandfather’ the civil partnership legislation. This would mean that those already in civil partnerships would be allowed to remain in them without the need to change, but all couples wishing to formalise their union, both gay and straight, would from that point only be able to marry.

Do I need to do anything if I already got married abroad?

Nope. From 29 March, same-sex couples who married abroad will automatically be recognised by the Government as married in the UK, as opposed to being recognised as civilly partnered, as they were before.

If I am posted on a military base outside of England and Wales, will I still be able to take advantage of the new law?

In theory, yes, but it depends where. The announcement said that same-sex  marriages in some British consulates and armed forces bases overseas would be possible, with military chapel weddings available from June 2014.

What about Scotland?

Scotland has its own bill to legalise equal marriage. The Scottish Parliament last month passed its equal marriage bill through the first stage of debate with a large majority.

If the bill passes at Stage 2, the Stage 3 vote is likely to happen in early 2014.

And Northern Ireland?

There is currently no bill proposed for the Northern Ireland Assembly and previous attempts to introduce similar legislation to the law that passed in England and Wales have failed.



Related topics: Civil partnerships, equal marriage, feature, gay marriage, gay wedding, lesbian marriage, lesbian wedding, marriage, Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, Marriage and Civil Partnerships Bill (Scotland), marriage equality, same sex marriage, Same-sex wedding, UK Marriage Bill, wedding

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