The government has launched a 12-week consultation on allowing gay couples In England and Wales to marry.
The proposal is however being fiercely opposed by some senior church figures, as well as a number of conservative MPs.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on 20th December 2005 and provides a framework for the resolution of financial disputes upon the breakdown of same sex relationships where there has been a formal registration of the relationship under the Act.
The government however wants gay couples to be legally allowed to make vows and declare they are married before the next general election, due to take place in 2015.
The consultation paper proposes to allow:
- Same-sex couples to marry in a register office or other civil ceremony
- People to stay married and legally change their gender
- Couples who have entered into a civil partnership to convert into a marriage.
The paper is not challenging whether a same-sex couple can marry in a religious service, this will remain under ban. Lynne Featherstone who is the Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister said that the government “was not looking at changing religious marriage, even for those that might wish to do it.”
She continued that this point was “not in the sight of this consultation”.
It is this issue however which is still very much a point of contention, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper commenting that “churches who want to celebrate gay marriage should have the opportunity to do so”.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the government’s commitment to legalise same-sex civil marriages but is unhappy about the continued ban on religious same-sex marriages. He comments that this ban on religious ceremonies is “not only homophobic but also an attack on religious freedom. While no religious body should be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, those that want to conduct them should be free to do so”.
As part of the consultation process the Home Office is asking individuals and organisations to give their views on the proposals to legalise gay marriage.
In opposition to the proposals are some Conservative MPs who argue that the move will “undermine the traditional idea of the family”. Senior members of the clergy have also complained that politicians should not be allowed to redefine marriage. Roman Catholic congregations across England and Wales have also been read a letter from the Church’s two most senior archbishops saying that “the change would reduce the significance of marriage and it was the duty of all Roman Catholics to make sure it didn’t happen”.
A number of other countries already allow same-sex couples to marry, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden.
Lisa Pepper, family law solicitor in the department at Osbornes Solicitorscomments:
“Civil partners are entitled to the same property rights and the same exemptions on inheritance tax as married couples. They also have the same ability to get parental responsibility for a partner’s child as well as reasonable maintenance, tenancy rights, insurance and next-of-kin rights in hospital and with doctors. There is also a process similar to divorce for dissolving a civil partnership”.
“With this in mind allowing same sex couples to be called married couples would not be a huge jump in terms of the practicality of family law and legislation. It seems that the issue at hand here is whether such a move will redefine the term marriage. What is certain, however is that this is a big issue which will continue to be debated upon, the final decision of which will leave one school of thought unhappy indeed.”
Lisa Pepper is a partner at Osbornes Solicitors LLP. The Legal 500 describes her as “constructive and smiling whatever the challenges” Lisa is a specialist collaborative lawyer recognised by independent family organisation Resolution.
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