This Sunday, March 29, 2015 is the first anniversary of the legalisation of same sex marriage in the UK and it’s a landmark we should be celebrating says Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at Stowe Family Law.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, came into force at one minute past midnight on March 29, 2014 and was hailed by many as a great step forward at the same time as it was condemned by other sectors.
“I remember the rainbow flag flying over Whitehall one year ago,” says Marilyn Stowe. “I was so proud to be part of a legal system that brought this law into force. It was progressive, it addressed the needs of a portion of our society who had been fighting for years to make it happen, and it was the right thing to do.”
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the first 3 days after the law came into force, 95 marriages took place in England and Wales. To date, ONS statistics are only available for the first three months and indicate that a total of 1,409 marriages were formed between same sex couples between March 29 and June 30, 2014, with 56% being female couples and 44% being male couples. The breakdown per month is 351 marriages in April, 465 in May and 498 in June, 2014.
“It’s early days on the available statistics to get a proper picture of what’s happening, but one interesting point is that that the majority of men and women entering a same sex marriage in the first three months had never been married or been in a civil partnership before – 91% of men and 79% of women, “ says Marilyn Stowe. “Last year, we saw lots of news reports of civil partners getting married as a result of the new Act, but it would appear that a lot of couples quietly got married without being in legal partnerships beforehand.
“But the statistics are only a part of the story. We also need to look at how the law has progressed in the last year. From December 10, 2014, same sex couples who were in a civil partnership in can now marry, which was still being worked through when the law came into force. Couples can go to their register office or to a religious or approved venue where same sex marriage is allowed. Once married, the couples have their marriage certificates backdated, so that their marriage will be deemed to have legally started from the date of their original civil partnership.
“The backdating of marriage certificates also creates an interesting point for divorce. Legally, you need to have been married for a year before you can file for divorce, but if a couple entered a civil partnership back in 2005 and converted to a marriage in 2014, under the terms of the Act, the resulting marriage is treated as having existed since the date the civil partnership was formed, so they would now have been married for over nine years, and therefore be entitled to get divorced. At the moment there are no hard statistics on same sex divorce, but just as some heterosexual couples marriages break down not long after the ink is dry on their certificate, there are same sex couples already in court.
“The nearest comparable available statistics comparing heterosexual divorce and dissolutions of civil partnerships are from 2012, where there were 118,140 divorces in England and Wales, an increase of 0.5% since 2011, while there were 794 civil partnership dissolutions, an increase of 20% since 2011. It’s likely that the increase in civil partnership dissolutions is simply a consequence of the number of civil partnerships that now exist in England and Wales that are going through a natural relationship cycle and it would be rash to try to extrapolate the current statistics onto any future comparisons between same sex divorces and heterosexual divorces.
“The new law was also a positive step forward for transsexual spouses. A transsexual person who wants to have the same rights as others of their acquired gender has to get a Gender Recognition Certificate. Previously, a married transsexual wishing to hold this certificate couldn’t remain married because marriage was deemed to be between two people of the opposite sex. But the new Act meant an individual who is married and then undertakes gender reassignment can now remain married, if they wish to do so, and their spouse consents.
“The one year anniversary should be a time of celebration of a long road travelled and a sense of justice achieved. It should perhaps also be a time to look at parts of the law that have not progressed in the same way, such as whether it’s time heterosexual couples had the right to form civil partnerships as well as marry?
“The current government Equalities Office consulted on this last year, but parked the issue after a lack of consensus. Some responses said that it was too soon to consider changes in civil partnership legislation and that it should wait until the impact of same sex marriage was known. Others said that civil partnerships and marriage were different types of relationship and that all couples should the same access to both forms of relationship. Since then a heterosexual couple who wanted to form a civil partnership and had been turned away from a register office because they weren’t a same sex couple were given permission last month to mount a legal challenge to the government’s lack of action. They say that the current rules are discriminatory, so it will be interesting to see the outcome of that challenge. Whatever the outcome, the question of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples is one that the next government will likely have to face at some point, whether they want to or not.”
For more information on Stowe Family Law go to: https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/
Stowe Family Law LLP
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