10 years ago the Civil Partnership Act introduced civil partnerships into England and Wales. Although the Act gave considerable legal rights to same sex couples, it fell short of allowing those couples to gain the same status as heterosexual couples.
After much debate and controversy, and following receiving royal assent on 17 July 2013, same sex couples will be able to get married in the same way as a heterosexual couple. Wedding ceremonies for same sex couples may begin from 29 March 2014, with those who want to be amongst the first to marry needing to give notice by 13 March 2014.
Same sex marriage legislation will introduce several important changes to those of a traditional Civil Partnership. These include:
1. The term ‘husband’ will include a man married to another man, and the term ‘wife’ will include a woman married to another woman;
2. Marriages can be conducted through either a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony, if the religious organisation has agreed to solemnize marriages of same sex couples according to their religious organisation. Churches in England and Wales will not be allowed to conduct these ceremonies at all;
3. Marriages are solemnized by saying a prescribed form of words, rather than a civil partnership which is registered by signing a civil partnership document, with no words required to be spoken;
4. A Marriage certificate will be provided following the ceremony rather than a Civil Partnership Certificate;
5 In the event that either party wishes to end their marriage, they can do so by going through the divorce process and obtaining a Decree Absolute rather than obtaining a Dissolution of Civil Partnership.
Can a civil partnership be converted into a same sex marriage?
Under the legislation a civil partnership cannot yet be converted into a same sex marriage. In order for this to happen the civil partnership would have to be dissolved and then the couple will be free to marry under the current legislation.
A same sex couple in Barnsley are seeking judicial review of the government’s decision to delay implementing part of the Act, which does allow a civil partnership to be converted into a same sex marriage. The couple from Barnsley had planned to be amongst the first couples to transfer their civil partnership to a same sex marriage, however because of the delay they are unable to do this on the 29 March 2014, when other same sex couples can legally marry. It is hoped that towards the end of 2014, couples in a civil partnership will be able to convert their civil partnership into marriage.
For more information on this and other family matters, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Family Law Team.