In July 2013 history was made in England and Wales with the Queen giving Royal Assent to the Marriage Bill (Same Sex Couples) after being passed by the House of Lords. Forward to today, Saturday 29th March 2014, and history is being made again. The rainbow flag is flying over Whitehall and across our two nations as same sex couples will be the first to tie the knot in legally binding ceremonies as the Marriage (same sex couples) Law 2013 comes into force.
In August of this year I will be marrying my boyfriend of eight years, however when he popped the question and we skipped off in the sunset to seek out the finest venue, food and non cabaret related entertainment, the same sex marriage bill wasn’t even being debated in Commons. Just after the bill was passed in the House of Lords we were in the registry process, but for a civil ceremony. A little like a letter you would expect to receive before your phone contract ends, a letter arrived informing us we could “upgrade” to a marriage. This was wonderful news, if not only meaning to go through the whole notice of ceremony all over again, all before we’ve even tied the knot! Despite the logistics of timings, we’re all set and ready for what they call, ‘the biggest day of your life’ and not a white dress or flower girl in sight. So why did so many of us lobby so hard for same sex marriage, and why is civil partnership just not good enough?
One reason is rights. Civil partners do not have the same pension rights as married couples. Not that I am planning on bumping him off for the life insurance just yet, but if one civil partner dies, the pension share that the surviving partner receives is usually lower and lasts for less time than with married couples. For married couples, a surviving partner is entitled to a pension based on the number of years their spouse paid into the pension fund.
Another is tradition. Let’s face it, many couples these days live together and do the dirty dirty together long before they marry, but if you are a same sex couple who want to abide by the traditions of no sex before marriage, consummation is not a legal requirement of civil partnerships. Another difference is adultery. I’m happily in love and getting married, for those singletons out there, yes vomit now, but heaven forbid the following should happen, he has an affair. Of course if he does his balls will be dangling from the light fittings, adultery is not recognised as grounds for dissolution of your civil partnership as it is for a marriage.
So what happens to the likes of Sir Elton who are already entered in to a civil partnership? Well those couples in civil partnerships, which became legal in the UK in 2004, can choose to convert their relationships to marriage but are under no obligation to do so. This procedure is not in place today though but the Government hopes for such a conversion by the end of the year.
Today sees the start of a new chapter in the fight for equality for many, but there is still a way to go. The Marriage (same sex couples) Law 2013 continues to face opposition from some religious groups. With that said, even in these early stages of the law we are seeing several opinions changing. Some clergy are offering to bless same-sex marriages despite their Bishops’ opposition. The openly gay London Reverend Andrew Cain announced his intention to marry his long-term partner later in the year. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has spoken out this week stating;
“I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being.”
So today let’s get the rainbow bunting out and celebrate the giant leap forward in equality, and with the bill now passed in Scotland too and law waiting to come into effect, it’s a leap in the right direction for majority of the UK.
For me though the “upgrade” is not about upgrading civil partnerships to fully-fledged marriages, but about upgrading the concept of marriage. From this moment the meaning of marriage incorporates that anyone in a loving relationship can be recognised in the same light. It says that young people growing up today knowing they are gay can have the exact same options open to them as their heterosexual peers and that their future relationship will be valued the same way by their parents, their friends and by law. For many, today, Saturday 29th of March will go down in history, just like August 10th will go down in my own book of memories.