Today's the day! Since midnight same-sex couples have been marrying in England and Wales. To mark the event, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has written a piece for the LGBT newspaper Pink News. Many Kos readers may find what he says quite extraordinary from a Conservative who has arranged for the rainbow flag to be flown over the Cabinet Office today. Here are a few extracts within the three paragraph limit which give a flavor.
This is something that has been very important to me. I have been so lucky to find the most incredible lifelong partner in Sam and our marriage has been a very special part of the commitment we have made to each other. Of course any marriage takes work, requires patience and understanding, give and take – but what it gives back in terms of love, support, stability and happiness is immeasurable. That is not something that the State should ever deny someone on the basis of their sexuality. When people’s love is divided by law, it is the law that needs to change.Cameron then pays tribute to those who helped bring the day about including Peter Tatchell, a fierce political opponent on the left. He goes on:
[Just to clarify; "Sam" is David Cameron's wife, Samantha]
The introduction of same-sex civil marriage says something about the sort of country we are. It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth. It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality. It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay. That is so important in trying to create an environment where people are no longer bullied because of their sexuality – and where they can realise their potential, whether as a great mathematician like Alan Turing, a star of stage and screen like Sir Ian McKellen or a wonderful journalist and presenter like Clare Balding.
Together we should be proud to live in a country judged to be the best place to live in Europe if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans. But we should equally be far from complacent about the challenges that remain – and I am just as committed as ever to working with you to challenge attitudes and stamp-out homophobic bullying and hate crimes.Cameron has also tweeted:
Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married - and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day.
What's perhaps guaranteed to blow the minds of the conservatives in the USA is the new wording to be used at all marriage ceremonies, one of the administrative changes consequent on the new law. These (.pdf) are three "scripts" suggested by a London Borough for couples to choose from when deciding on their vows but certain parts are "standard". The celebrant now asserts:
Before you are joined together in marriage it is my duty to remind you of the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make.Not, "a man and a woman".
Marriage in this country is the union of two people, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusions of all others.
The rest of the diary is a bit of background on the current situation which may be of interest.
Some couples in the UK will not be able to marry. Those living in Northern Ireland have been able to enter into Civil Partnerships and this will continue however to marry they will have to go to another part of the UK. The marriage nevertheless is valid in NI and they have the same rights there.
Those already in civil partnerships cannot currently marry. This is one of the administrative consequences of the new law which delays the full implementation. There are provisions to simply convert a civil partnership into a marriage however this is not mandatory. Also complicating are the few transgender couples who were married, one underwent gender re-assignment (therefore automatically dissolving the marriage) and the couple subsequently entered into a civil partnership but they now wish to marry. They, justifiably, wish to have their relationship regarded as a continuing marriage. Regulations on at least the conversion of civil partnerships is due before the end of the year. Couples will have the choice of holding a new ceremony or a simple change of paperwork.
Marriages in Britain are all recorded in the Register (of Births, Deaths and Marriages) maintained by the local borough of city's Registrar. A form is signed by the partners, two witnesses and the Registrar or his deputy. Civil weddings are held either in the local Registry Office or in an "appointed place". This can be anywhere suitable to be licenced (for a minimum period during which them must be available for weddings and civil partnership ceremonies). This can include such places as a pod on the London Eye but more usually a hotel or stately home.
In the case of weddings held as religious ceremonies, the officiating priest etc acts as a deputy Registrar. No religious organization can be forced to hold a same-sex wedding and (for constitutional reasons), the Church of England General Synod must request permission to hold same sex-marriages.
Same sex couples only can continue to enter into Civil Partnerships. These carry much the same legal rights as marriages however there are some differences. These continue to cause some inequalities between same sex married couples and others.
One particular area yet to be addressed (although a review is mandated in the legislation) is that of pensions. In terms of state (national) benefits all are covered by the same regulations however private pensions can be very different. As an example; I have a local government pension. In the 1980s, the scheme recognized that same-sex survivors of contributors should be eligible for a "survivor's pension" on their death, in the same way a widow would receive one, if they were dependent on the deceased pensioner. The benefits would however only be counted from the date they made the decision. This meant somebody retiring in 2005 after 40 years, their widow or widower would get benefits based on the full 40 years' contributing but a same-sex partner only about half. Civil partners now automatically get the survivor's pension but still on the reduced rate. Full equality means that legislation will have to make the various insurance companies and pension schemes give full benefits to survivors. The mandated review will look into this aspect.
Pensions also enter into another difference between civil partnerships and marriages. Partnerships can be dissolved in a relatively simple process of declarations. Marriages however have to be legally dissolved by divorce and there are provisions to protect the financial interests of the partners. This can include the division of any pension benefits accrued during the marriage - it makes provision for future maintenance. Also of course the children of any marriage have to be considered and the arrangements for child maintenance etc written into the divorce settlement.
Still, it all makes work for the lawyers :-)