Earlier this year, new laws were passed to allow same sex marriage in England and Wales. Whilst opinions differ on the subject, David Cameron made his support known by commenting that it showed Britain’s proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth.

The introduction of same sex marriage in the England and Wales has meant some changes in law. New legislation called The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which has enabled the following changes:

  • Same sex couples can marry in a civil ceremony
  • Same sex couples can marry in a religious ceremony if the organisation agrees to undertake the ceremony
  • Convert an existing civil partnership to a marriage if they want
  • Allows a gender change without the need to end a marriage

The legislation excludes the Church of England and Church of Wales from carrying out same sex marriage, but all other religious organisations are able to opt in to carry out same sex marriage if they choose to.

Whilst these amendments to the law are straightforward, there are some additional changes which should be noted.

The first of these is that same sex couples cannot divorce on the grounds of adultery. Adultery is defined in the law as a sexual relationship between a man and a woman outside of a marriage. This clearly cannot apply to a same sex marriage. In addition, grounds of non consummation cannot be used to annul a same sex marriage.

There is still inequality in the pension rights in same sex marriage, but this is due to be reviewed later on this summer by the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, who will provide recommendations on how to address this issue.

With civil partnerships still available for same sex couples, the question is now whether the option of civil partnerships will be opened up to heterosexual couples, which is not currently the case. Many heterosexual couples would like an alternative option to marriage and therefore this option is also being considered and reviewed by the current government.

Scotland looks set to follow suit with MP’s voting to pass new laws later on this year, similar to the laws already in place in England and Wales. Northern Ireland, however, will treat any same sex couple who are married as being in a civil partnership and there are no plans to change the law there.

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