Same-sex couples now receive access to equivalent legal rights, bar the ability to be able to be married and to say that they are married. We do not believe this is acceptable.The paper indicates that -
The introduction of civil partnerships in 2005 was a significant and important step forward for same-sex couples in ensuring that their commitment to one another was recognised in law on the same basis as for opposite-sex couples; for the first time, couples were able to gain important rights, protections and responsibilities that they had been denied in the past.
We recognise that the personal commitment made by same-sex couples when they enter into a civil partnership is no different to the commitment made by opposite-sex couples when they enter into a marriage. We do not think that the ban on same-sex couples getting married should continue. Put simply, it’s not right that a couple who love each other and want to formalise a commitment to each other should be denied the right to marry.
This consultation is about how the ban can be lifted on same-sex couples having a marriage through a civil ceremony. Whilst many of the issues and questions outlined in this document relate to those individuals and organisations that will be directly affected by this, we recognise that this is of wider interest to everyone. We are therefore seeking a wide range of views in response to this consultation on how best this ban can be lifted.The paper notes that -
Under current legislation a marriage can only be between a couple of the opposite-sex i.e. a man and a woman. A marriage can be conducted on either, religious premises through a religious ceremony, or on secular (non-religious) premises through a civil ceremony.
A civil partnership can only be between a same-sex couple i.e. either a man and a man or a woman and a woman and can only be conducted through a civil ceremony. A civil partnership can take place on secular premises but can also be held on religious premises, if the religious organisation in question has allowed this to happen (but the ceremony has to remain a civil one). In all cases a civil partnership registration must be secular (non-religious).
During a listening exercise held in autumn 2010 on the next steps for civil partnerships the Government identified a desire to look at equalising access to civil marriage for same-sex couples. As a result a commitment was made to work with all those with an interest in the issue on how legislation could develop. This consultation seeks your views on how this could best be achieved.
From these discussions it became clear that the immediate issue that needed consideration was enabling same-sex couples to have a civil marriage. The Government is committed to taking forward equal civil marriage and wants to consult widely on how best this can be done. The consultation therefore, does not look at reforms to civil partnerships, for example opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.The paper articulates 'Principles for change', indicating that -
In the development of this consultation paper, Ministers and officials have met with a range of organisations including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, and religious and non-religious organisations to hear their views and understand the implications of any proposals on this issue.
We have listened to those religious organisations that raised concerns about the redefinition of religious marriage. We are aware that some religious organisations that solemnize marriages through a religious ceremony believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. That is why this consultation is limited to consideration of civil marriage and makes no proposals to change the way that religious marriages are solemnized. It will not be legally possible under these proposals for religious organisations to solemnize religious marriages for same-sex couples. There will therefore be no obligation or requirement for religious organisations or ministers of religion to do this. It will also not be possible for a same-sex couple to have a civil marriage ceremony on religious premises. Marriages of any sort on religious premises would still only be legally possible between a man and a woman.
Civil marriage for same-sex couples is not a new idea and an increasing number of other countries are introducing legal recognition of same-sex relationships on the same basis as for opposite-sex relationships.
The Government aims to address the following issues as part of this work:In a discussion of the 'Current position' it notes that although UK civil partnerships "were designed to provide equivalent rights and responsibilities to marriage there are some differences", such as -i. To remove the ban on same-sex couples being able to have a marriage through a civil ceremony. The Government recognises that the commitment made between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman in a civil partnership is as significant as the commitment between a man and a woman in a civil marriage. If we recognise the commitment being made is as significant, it is only right that the Government provides couples with the same opportunity to recognise that commitment in the valued institution of marriage.There are a number of differences between civil marriages and civil partnerships as set out below. This consultation is not only about those differences, but also about the principle of no longer distinguishing in civil marriage ceremonies between same-sex and opposite-sex couples.Removing the bar on same-sex couples being married will enable for the first time, one partner to change their legal gender without having to formally end their marriage. This can be distressing for those couples who want to stay married but cannot currently do so because it is not legally possible for same- sex couples to be married. Equally, couples who are currently in a civil partnership would be able to convert their partnership into a marriage, rather than formally dissolving their civil partnership.
ii. To make no changes to how religious organisations solemnize marriages i.e. marriages solemnized through a religious ceremony and on religious premises would still only be legally possible between a man and a woman. The Government is not seeking to change how religious organisations define religious marriage and any subsequent legislation would be clear that no religious organisation could conduct a religious marriage ceremony on religious premises for same-sex couples.
iii.To allow transsexual people to change their legal gender without having to legally end their existing marriage or civil partnership.
• Civil partnership and marriage are two entirely separate legal regimes with different pieces of legislation covering each of them. Civil partners cannot call themselves married for legal purposes and married couples cannot call themselves civil partners for legal purposes. This means that when making a declaration of marital status to an employer, public authority or other organisation, an individual who is either married or in a civil partnership will often be effectively declaring their sexual orientation at the same time;The paper states that in order to achieve those aims the Government intends to -
• Civil marriages are solemnized by saying a prescribed form of words whereas civil partnerships are formed simply by signing the register – no words are required to be spoken;
• Married couples and civil partners are entitled to similar rights and responsibilities but there are some differences around eligibility for some pension rights and laws around adultery and non-consummation and courtesy titles;
• Marriage can currently be conducted either through a religious ceremony or through a civil ceremony. Civil partnerships can only be conducted through a civil ceremony, although from December 2011 it has been possible for couples to have their civil partnership registration take place on religious premises, (although the registration itself must remain secular). This is an entirely voluntary provision for faith groups who want to host civil partnership registrations and does not lift the ban on any religious elements forming part of the civil partnership registration itself. The Government is committed to retaining this provision to enable same-sex couples to continue having a civil partnership registration on religious premises if that religious organisation has agreed.
• enable same-sex couples to get married through civil ceremonies.Under the proposals, the Government intends to allow couples in a civil partnership the option of ‘converting’ their existing civil partnership into a civil marriage.
• retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples, including the ability to have a civil partnership registration on religious premises (on a voluntary basis and retaining the ban on any religious elements forming part of the registration).
• allow transsexual people to change their legal gender without having to legally end their existing marriage or civil partnership.
• make no changes to how religious marriages are solemnized.
Perspectives on gay marriage are provided in works such as Odd Couples: A History of Gay Marriage in Scandinavia (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2011) by Jens Rydstrom, When Gay People Get Married: what happens when societies legalize same-sex marriage (New York: New York University Press 2012) by Lee Badgett and The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2011) by Margot Canaday.