On 5th February 400 MPs voted in favour of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.  The Bill will now go before a Public Bill Committee for consideration.   The proposed legislation would introduce civil marriage for same sex couples and enable religious organisations to opt in to conduct same sex marriages if they wish to do so.

This is a fundamental change, one which is welcomed by the many members of the public and many family lawyers alike.  Whilst it can be argued that civil partnerships under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA 2004) are marriages by another name, the distinction between the 2 institutions as they stand is discriminatory.

The CPA 2004 enabled same sex couples to formally register their relationship, and indeed enjoy a range of the benefits available to married couples, such as pensions, insurances, the ability to change names and some tax benefits.  Although the CPA 2004 has helped end discrimination in some respects and, without question, has promoted the gay community, it has not had the same effect as marriage.

One key concern for many when considering the Bill was the impact it would have on religious organisations.  The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will enable same sex couples to be married by religious organisations that want to offer it, although no religious organisation will be compelled to marry same sex couples.

If passed, the Bill would enable civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage and further, married transsexual people would gain legal recognition in their acquired gender without having to end their marriage.

Marriage is unfortunately an institution that is fading and the Government are said to believe that allowing same sex couples access to marriage will help ensure that marriage remains a relevant and vibrant institution.

There is no question that the CPA 2004 was a positive step towards achieving equality, however The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill will hopefully diminish an obvious injustice and inequality in our legal system leading to gay couples having the same legal rights as heterosexual couples under the law in England and Wales.

This is a landmark decision paving a way for equality for gay couples.  We at Stephen Rimmer are keeping up to date with the changes and would be pleased to advise and assist.  Should you wish to discuss your matter please do not hesitate to contact Claire Tennant, or one of the family department team on 01323 644222.