Same-sex marriage in English and Welsh family law

8th March 2015 by


Before the passing of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA) couples involved in same-sex relationships had no way of having their commitment to each other acknowledged legally. As gay and lesbian couples were not allowed to marry in English and Welsh family law they could not benefit from the legal status offered to married heterosexual couples, with the associated rights of inheritance, pension benefit, next of kin and parenting rights attached.

Along with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFEA), which allowed two parents of the same sex to become the legal parents of a child, the CPA went some way to redress the balance.

However, there was still dissent and anger amongst many human rights campaigners who felt a legislature which saw marriage as solely between a man a woman to be socially and culturally out of touch, and discriminatory. Yet, many church bodies campaigned vehemently that, according to the bible, marriage could not exist between two men or two women and there were fears that, should a same-sex marriage law be introduced, ministers would be under a legal obligation to marry same-sex couples.

Moving towards same-sex marriage

The first announcement that the Government would launch a consultation into the implementation of equal civil-marriage (non-religious) rights came at the 2011 Liberal Democrat party conference. In October 2011, when David Cameron voiced his support for the new law at the Conservative party conference, his words were reportedly greeted with applause.

The Government’s consultation on equal civil-marriage was launched on 12 March 2012 and by December of that year the Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, announced that proposals for new rules in family law would be put forward.

One of the main stipulations proposed as a result of the consultation was that religious organisations should be able to perform same-sex marriages, if they so wished, but that no minister would be compelled to carry out such ceremonies.

On 24 January 2014 Mrs Miller introduced the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to the House of Commons. The Bill completed committee stage in early March, and headed for its first reading in the House of Lords after successfully being voted through a third Commons’ reading on 21 May.

By 15 July, the Bill had passed its third reading in the House of Lords and was given Royal Assent on 17 July 2013. Baroness Stowell of Beeston had steered the Bill through the House of Lords stating that although she could not claim to be a gay-rights campaigner she was a firm believer in justice and fairness.

At the time, the Roman Catholic Church was reported in the Telegraph as describing the new law as a “watershed” which would mark a “profound social change”.

Healys family lawyers in Brighton and London working for same-sex couples

If you would like to speak to a family lawyer about any issue relating to same-sex relationships, parenting, adoption, or civil-partnership dissolutions and same-sex divorce, please call our offices today.

For further articles relating to the subject of same-sex relationships please click here.