Equal Marriage (of sorts) – Gay Marriage becomes legal in England and Wales

August 13, 2013

Following our blog earlier in the year where we reported on the progress of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill we are delighted that the Bill has now received royal assent. After much debate and somewhat of a furore, this means that same sex marriage is now law, even though the first UK same sex marriages won’t take place until Spring 2014 once all the procedures and paperwork have been put in place.

Perhaps unsurprisingly there is some confusion around what the changes in the law actually mean. The key points to note are as follows:

1. It will be legal for couples of the same sex to marry in England in Wales.

2. Same sex couples can have a civil or religious wedding, but can only have a religious wedding if the relevant religious group decides to ‘opt in’ (which every religious group except the Church of England can do).

3. Civil partnership will remain an option for same sex, but not heterosexual, couples. (The legal differences between marriage and civil partnership are minimal in practice).

4. Same sex couples already in a civil partnership can convert their civil partnership into a marriage if it was registered in England and Wales. This will not apply to couples who registered a civil partnership in Northern Ireland, Scotland or abroad (who will not be able to marry unless they dissolve their civil partnership first).

5. For those splitting up, adultery is not a ground for dissolving a civil partnership and is only a ground for dissolving a same sex marriage if the adultery takes place with a member of the opposite sex (although in practice unreasonable behaviour usually gives grounds for dissolving a relationship where there has been infidelity anyway).

6. There is no international harmonisation of how or if a same sex marriage will be recognised in other countries. However, it is likely that a same sex marriage will be recognised in countries where same sex marriage is legal (such as France which has recently undergone similar changes).

The change in the law is certainly welcomed by us at NGA but the rules are undoubtedly complex. There has already been controversy over the decision to allow religious groups to opt in but this doesn’t apply to the Church of England. It seems an awkward concept that same sex couples are to be able to enter into a civil partnership but for there to be no option for heterosexual couples to do likewise.

There will be complex questions from couples in England and Wales who have married or registered a civil partnership abroad as to how their relationship will be recognised in England and Wales. Similarly, relocating couples will need to know whether their marriage will be recognised abroad. This will impact on issues such as tax planning or the breakdown of the relationship.

Much like with our campaigning work for a global harmonisation of surrogacy laws we feel that a more universal approach to same sex marriage is needed, but this is herculean task at a global level. In the meantime, UK same sex marriage is a huge step in the right direction.

Here at NGA we specialise in helping alternative families and have a strong background in cases involving the breakdown of relationships. We help with civil partnership dissolution, divorce and disputes relating to children and financial matters. We also help with pre registration and pre nuptial agreements to give clarity and prevent disputes in the future. If you would like to discuss your circumstances with us please contact Richard Perrins for more information.

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