Implementation of equal marriage legislation

The first same sex marriages took place on 29 March 2014. This follows the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act on 17 July 2013.

According to the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Act,  its main purpose is to enable same sex couples to marry, either in a civil ceremony (i.e. a civil ceremony in a register office or approved premises e.g. a hotel) or, provided that the religious organisation concerned is in agreement, on religious premises, with the marriage being solemnized through a religious ceremony.

Key elements of the Act:

  • provide that same sex couples can get married in England and Wales;
  • provide that such marriages are the same as marriages between a man and a woman under the law of England and Wales;
  • permit marriage of same sex couples by way of a civil ceremony;
  • permit marriage of same sex couples according to religious rites and usages where a religious organisation has opted in to that process (with the exception of the Church of England and the Church in Wales);
  • provide a process by which the Church in Wales can request and obtain legislative change to allow marriages of same sex couples according to its rites if it wishes to do so;
  • provide that there will be no obligation or compulsion on religious organisations or individuals to carry out or participate in a religious marriage ceremony of a same sex couple;
  • provide protection under equality law for religious organisations and individuals who do not wish to marry same sex couples in a religious ceremony;
  • provide for reviews of:
    • whether an order should be made permitting belief organisations to solemnize marriages and to consider what provision should be made in the order;
    • the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act in England and Wales;
    • survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes.

The Act does not remove the availability of civil partnerships for same sex couples. There is provision in the Act for those in a civil partnership to convert that relationship to a marriage if they choose to do so.

Background information:

On 23 January 2014, the Government published its response to the consultation paper ‘The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013: Shared Buildings Regulations’, which sought views on the procedures for registering for marriages of same sex couples religious buildings that are shared by more than one religious organisation.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced into Parliament and had its first reading on 24 January 2013.

An analysis of the Bill is available on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

Stonewall published a statement in July 2013 when the Bill became law.

The Prime Minister wrote an article for PinkNews to mark the occasion of the first same sex marriages on 29 March.

Factsheets, a mythbuster and legal information relating to equal marriage are available on the government website.