Same Sex Marriage Rights
In December 2005 legislation was introduced in the UK that gave same sex marriage rights to gay couples. However, gay couples can only have civil partnerships and there are some differences between marriages and civil partnerships.
Civil Partnership Act 2004The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is legislation that gives gay couples many of the same marriage rights afforded to heterosexual couples. Before the act came into place same sex couples were excluded from rights and responsibilities that are given to heterosexual married couples. Now that same sex civil partnerships are legally recognised in the UK, the rights, responsibilities and obligations are more in line with heterosexual marriages.
Marriage or PartnershipWhen the Civil Partnership Act was first introduced a huge number of ceremonies took place in the first year, around 15,000. However, same sex civil partnerships are still not officially recognised as marriages in the UK. Achieving the same partnership rights for same sex couples as those given to heterosexual couples has been a slow process. The question of why a civil partnership is not officially recognised as a marriage is a matter for the government to answer. However, same sex marriage campaigners will continue their fight until legal recognition of the marriage status is achieved.
The Marriage CeremonyAlthough it is not legally called marriage the basic principles are the same. Same sex couples can become married with a religious or civil ceremony. The marriage must be conducted by a person who has the power to register the marriage in the district where the couple lives. The marriage details must also be entered into the marriage register and signed by the couple, witnesses, and the authorised registrar.
Advantages of Civil PartnershipsIt took many years of campaigning and the fact that the laws on same sex marriages had changed in other countries before the UK changed their laws. For some, the fact that the partnership is not legally termed a marriage proves that the law has not been changed enough. However, civil partnerships now mean that same sex couples have a number of rights that did not exist before the Civil Partnership Act. These similar rights now include:
- Child support rights and next of kin recognition
- Rights on tax credits
- Pension and property rights
- Social security and other state benefit rights
- Housing rights
- Parental responsibility rights
- Recognition of nationality and immigration
- The same tax allowances and relief afforded in heterosexual marriages
Legalities of Civil PartnershipsJust as with heterosexual marriages there are number of legal stipulations that must be met before the civil partnership can commence. The legislation on same sex civil partnerships has been specifically designed for same sex unions. Legal requirements include both partners being over the age of 16 and are not already married or in a civil partnership. Anyone over the age of 16 but under the age of 18 must have permission from parents before the civil partnership can go ahead.
Breakdown of a PartnershipCivil partnerships and legal rights are now also recognised after the break up of a partnership. Rights such as parental responsibilities now exist after a civil partnership is dissolved just as they would with heterosexual marriages. The courts will officially recognise issues such as child maintenance agreements. Any prenuptial agreements written before a civil partnership can also be enforced by the courts. With extra rights comes extra responsibilities and both partners should be fully aware of their obligations if a partnership is to be terminated.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was a breakthrough in same sex marriage rights. Same sex couples can now expect the same rights as heterosexual couples and these rights do bring certain obligations and responsibilities. There may come a time when same sex couples will be officially recognised as a married couple but until then civil partnerships are the only choice