Same Sex Marriage Bill – A Level Playing Field?

Same Sex Marriage

Rachel Donald from Charles Russell LLP

The first Same Sex Marriage is expected to take place next month.

The Marriage Bill (Same Sex Couples) legislation, which had previously divided opinion in government, was far from controversial when Parliament granted Royal Assent last summer.

The unanimous approval of the Bill by peers in Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat seats has resulted in wedding plans in readiness for the first legal same sex marriage, which has been long awaited for many gay couples.

The Bill has been introduced as a result of a rising awareness for the need to equalise the legal status of gay couples, which historically could impact on the financial claims available in the event of their relationship breaking down.

This Bill has finally arrived almost a decade later that the first Civil Partnership, which took place in December 2005 following the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

This Act had aimed to place gay couples on an equal “legal” footing providing similar financial provisions to Civil Partners upon separation as those available to heterosexual married couples.

Previously same sex couples had been reliant on property and trust law to seek financial remedies after a split. This legislation was welcomed, but it was acknowledged it did not go far enough.

The Same Sex Marriage Bill takes a fundamental leap forward in confirming same sex marriages will have the exact same legal standing as a heterosexual marriage, save for  relying upon adultery when getting divorced.

The legalisation means that gay couples can now marry in a Church (if they wish to do so) if that denomination has “opted in” to facilitate a wedding. Same Sex MarriageHowever, the legislation excludes the Church of England from having the ability to opt in.

It also means that gay couples will be able to seek financial support from their spouse under the same legislation as heterosexual couples.

The Same Sex Marriage Bill means that the Government will need to review the existing legislation for Civil Partners, which will now become somewhat redundant.

There are currently over 100,000 Civil Partners living in the UK. Civil Partners will have the option to convert their partnership to a marriage, if they wish to do so.

Gay marriages will enable same sex couples to receive equal pension and state benefits to heterosexual married couples: a welcomed development for many gay couples who have missed out on benefits available to heterosexual married couples.

This legislation brings England and Wales in line with many other jurisdictions that are recognising the importance of equal rights to same sex couples not from a legal position.

This week has also seen recognition in the Scottish Jurisdiction for a similar act to be introduced in Scotland.

It will also equalise the social and economic benefits for gay couples. In that respect the Same Sex Marriage Bill goes much further than the Civil Partnership Act, which provided gay couples with an alternative to marriage, rather than equal standing to heterosexual married couples.

About Rachel

Rachel is a Senior Associate in the Family Law Service at the city law firm Charles Russell LLP, based in the firm’s Guildford Office.

Charles Russell’s family team is within the magic circle of family lawyers and advise on domestic and international family law. Rachel specialises exclusively in family law and advises on all matters including divorce, civil partnership dissolution, pre-nuptial agreements, cohabitation and matters involving children.

Rachel has particular experience with high net worth financial cases, enforcement of matrimonial orders, cross jurisdictional maintenance disputes and appeals against the Child Maintenance Service.

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