Posted by familylaw on 22nd March 2012

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information, Lynne Featherstone, has announced the launch of a consultation on how to introduce equal civil marriage.

The consultation sets out the government’s proposals to enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage.

Same-sex couples can enter into a civil partnership, which is a legally recognised union between two people of the same sex. Couples in a civil partnership have the same legal treatment across a range of matters as that of a married couple. Ending a civil partnership follows the same process as that of a divorce.

However, despite the equal standing of marriage and civil partnerships in the eye of the law there are important differences:

  1. A civil marriage almost always contains religious aspects during the marriage. The word ‘marriage’ is a religious word in itself. Additionally, a clergy can perform civil marriages, whereas only specified registrars can perform a civil partnership.
  2. A civil partnership becomes legal when the second party signs the registration certificate. It need not be signed during a public ceremony, no words have to be exchanged and allows the partner to enter into the partnership on a private basis. During a civil marriage, typically words are exchanged and then the register is signed.

The key proposals of the consultation are:

  • To enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage i.e. only civil ceremonies in a register office or approved premises (such as a hotel).
  • To make no changes to religious marriages. This will continue to only be legally possible between a man and a woman.
  • To retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert this into a marriage.
  • Civil partnership registrations on religious premises will continue as is currently possible i.e. on a voluntary basis for faith groups and with no religious content.
  • Individuals will, for the first time, be able legally to change their gender without having to end their marriage.

What has brought about the consultation?

Many have argued that having two separate provisions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples perpetuates misconceptions and discrimination. Same-sex couples in a civil partnership and opposite-sex couples in a marriage have made the same personal commitment yet are differentiated by the term used to their describe their union.

The government is clear that no changes will be made to how religious organisations define and solemnize religious marriages.

The consultation can be read here. The consultation will close on 14 June 2012.

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