Same-sex couples: will they be able to get married in England?

25 Mar 2019

The government has published its Marriage (same-sex couples) Bill to allow same-sex marriages, but how does this differ from entering into a civil partnership?

Same sex couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership since 2005 and are effectively entering into a legal relationship through an exclusively civil procedure. The couple cannot opt to have a religious ceremony over the civil procedure. Couples who enter into a civil partnership gain the same rights as those who are married in relation to such matters as inheritance, pension provisions, life assurance, child maintenance, next of kin and immigration. Importantly though civil partners do not get divorced – they can dissolve their civil partnership.

Why same-sex marriage?

Supporters and campaigners of same-sex marriage argue that a civil partnership propagates the idea that the same-sex relationship is not as valid as a heterosexual relationship and that a civil partnership still does not grant the couple the same rights as in marriage.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone comments:

“Put simply, it’s not right that a couple who live with each other and want to formalise a commitment to each other should be denied the right to marry”.

What is the position of religious organisations?

The Act states that:

  1. No religious organisation or individual minister is compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises
  2. No discrimination claim can be brought against a religious organisation or individual minister for refusing to marry a same-sex couple and
  3. The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church of Wales to marry same-sex couples

Why is the Church of England banned from conducting same-sex marriages?

The Church of England has its own Canon Law which is part of the law of the land. One of its Canons states that marriage is in its nature a union of one man and one woman. The Act by Parliament preserves this law. Parliament has stated that had it chosen to disregard this law it “would have called into question the status and effect of the canonical provisions that set out the Church’s doctrine of marriage as being between one man and one woman”.

Other religious organisations including Catholics, The Muslim Council of Great Britain, the United Synagogue and Lord Singh, head of the Network of Sikh Organisations have all publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

The legislation will be debated in the Commons on Tuesday 5 February, and since over 100 Conservative MPs are expected to oppose the Bill they will get a free vote, meaning they will face no repercussions if they decide to defy government policy.

Want to enter into or dissolve a civil-partnership?

If you would like more advice about entering into a civil partnership, drawing up a pre-nuptial agreements or if you are seeking to dissolve a civil partnership contact our family department for assistance and for further guidance. We can also provide assistance with finance and property issues if your relationship has ended and you did not enter into a civil partnership.

Share this article