Gay and lesbian couples can now exchange their marriage vows in England and Wales, removing another form of inequality and improving the rights of families with gay parents. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force on 13th March 2014, bringing an end to the required distinction between officially recognised forms of union for same sex and opposite sex couples. The Netherlands became the first country to adopt gay marriage in December 2000 and over a dozen countries have implemented same sex marriage legislation since then. Scotland has passed a gay marriage bill, with the first weddings expected to take place this autumn, but there are currently no plans to introduce same sex marriage to Northern Ireland.
How does it differ from Civil Partnership?
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force towards the end of 2005, providing a method for same sex couples to take advantage of the same legal benefits of marriage but still maintaining a distinction in the form and process of tying the knot. Despite the same property rights, exemptions on inheritance tax and social security and pension benefits, the fact that a difference still existed was considered unfair and prompted campaigners to continue to fight for complete equality. The government has confirmed that those in civil partnerships will be able to convert to marriage before the end of 2014.
First gay weddings to take place by the end of March
Although the laws allowing same sex marriage essentially came into force from 13th March, couples must give 16 days’ notice of their intention to marry at a registry office (as is the case with mixed sex marriage), so the first weddings will be taking place in England and Wales on 29th March 2014. The notice period can be waived in cases where one partner is terminally ill or there is another urgent reason for them to be married. Any gay or lesbian couples who previously wed overseas – such as Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson who were married in Canada in 2003 – had their marriages automatically recognised under the new legislation from the 13th.
It will also be possible for same sex couples to get married in some British consulates and armed forces bases overseas or military chapels from June 2014. But, when it comes to religious ceremonies, the Church of England and the Church in Wales are forbidden from conducting same sex marriages under the legislation. Other religious groups can opt in but will not be obliged to carry out same sex weddings.
Rocket Lawyer UK offers a range of up-to-date documents documents dealing with issues relating to marriage including pre-nups and a separation agreement. For more information, take a look at our hub for getting married which contains various useful Quick Guides.
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