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Government ‘opt in’ for same sex marriage

Last night at 7:00pm it was announced that Government voted in favour of the Marriage (same Sex Couples) Bill. Yesterday’s vote took most of the day to decide but eventually it was approved by 400 votes to 175, a majority of 225.

The Bill will allow same sex couples to enter into a marriage instead of the relatively new concept of civil partnerships brought about by the Civil Partnership Act 2005. The Partnership Act 2005 gave same sex couples the option of entering into a civil partnership which gives same sex couples the same property rights, the same exemptions on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits as married couples. Even the process of ending a civil partnership is similar to that of a divorcing married couple. Now the Bill has been approved the draftsmen’s work will begin as many different pieces of legislation will need to be amended, for example, the historic definition of adultery in divorce proceedings, which currently only caters for heterosexual couples.

It is clear that many people feel extremely strongly about this matter and even our Government was unable to unanimously agree the proposals. In 2006, Sir Mark Potter, president of the high court family division, told an academic lesbian couple that they faced an “insurmountable hurdle” in trying to have a same-sex marriage recognised in English law. He said marriage was regarded as an “age-old institution” that was “by longstanding definition and acceptance” a formal relationship between a man and a woman primarily designed for producing and rearing children.

However, Angela Eagle told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that people should remember marriage is “bigger” than the concept of allowing procreation between men and women.

Many fear that allowing the Bill to be passed will leave religious institutions in a vulnerable position in years to come, as same sex couples may bring legal action for those institutions not wishing to marry same sex couples. Mrs Miller insisted the Bill will protect religious freedoms and “not marginalise those who believe marriage should be between a man and a woman”.  It has been commented that religious institutions will be given the option to opt into marrying same sex couples and will not face legal action if they chose not to.

It is clear that this matter will remain in the headlines for some time. Although the Bill passed the second reading yesterday there are many more stages to go through before it is ready for Royal assent. If the Bill passes those hurdles then it seems from a legal point of view nothing will change for same sex couples except the label of being married but it is felt by some to be the last piece in the jigsaw in ending discrimination based on sexual orientation.

I leave you with one final point to think about…with same sex couples soon to be allowed to enter into a marriage should it now be permitted for heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage?

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Paul Lancaster

Family Law
0113 227 9285
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Paul Lancaster Blacks Solicitors LLP