Last night the House of Commons voted in favour of the bill to allow gay marriage. The bill provoked huge debate both inside and outside the Commons, with the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury making his first political intervention by confirming the Anglican church’s view that religious marriage can only exist between a man and a woman.
But what’s the big deal? Since December 2005 it has been possible for same sex couples to register their partnership as a civil partnership. Civil partnership is akin to civil marriage and, in almost all respects, is legally equivalent. Civil partners enjoy the same tax treatment as married couples, financial settlements on dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as on divorce, civil partners can acquire parental responsibility for each other’s children in the same way as married couples and civil partners may adopt a child or apply for a parental order (in respect of a surrogate child) in the same way as a married couple. However, some differences between civil partnership and civil marriage remain. For example, although the divorce process for a civil partnership (known as dissolution) is the same, the grounds for dissolution are slightly different. And then there is the thorny issue of international recognition. The recognition provisions are patchy and can give rise to very different rights and responsibilities to those which apply in the home country.
So why not remove the differences by allowing same sex couples to marry if they wish to do so? Supporters of gay marriage argue that excluding same sex couples from marriage is discriminatory. Why should they not enjoy the same rights as other married couples? By bringing forward this bill the Government recognises the anomalies as far as civil partnership and civil marriage are concerned. It may take time to win over the sceptics, particularly some religious organisations, but a move towards gay marriage makes perfect sense in our modern world.
At Family Law in Partnership we have extensive experience in dealing with all aspects of civil partnership from negotiating civil partnership agreements to negotiating the dissolution and separation process. If you are considering registering a civil partnership or have already registered your partnership and want to understand how the law might impact on you, please feel free to call us on 020 7420 5000 for an informal chat.