Since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force same sex couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership which has given the civil partners the same rights and legal status as married heterosexual couples in areas such as tax, inheritance, occupation of the family home and financial provisions on relationship breakdown.
Civil Partnerships are not marriages and therefore the definition of marriage has not been changed to provide for a couple of the same sex to marry. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was a new piece of legislation enabling the legal recognition of same sex relationships. Although a civil partnership is not a marriage, the case of Wilkinson v Kitzinger (No 2) 1 FCR 183 confirms that civil partners are now in the same position to spouses in relation to the key issues mentioned above.
In England and Wales a civil partnership can take place in a register office or any other venue approved to hold such ceremonies. The civil partnership will be formed once the couple have signed the civil partnership document in the presence of a registrar, each other and two witnesses, much like a marriage in a registry office. Unlike a heterosexual marriage, which can take place in a Church, Mosque, Synagogue etc. civil partnership ceremonies can have no religious content.
This is a developing area of the law in England and Wales and in January 2013 the government published the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13 which can be read by following the link:- services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/marriagesamesexcouplesbill.html
This Bill, amongst other things, aims to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales and enable religious organisations to ‘opt in’ to conduct same sex marriages if they wish to do so. It will also protect those religious organisations and individuals, who do not wish to opt in, from being forced to conduct same sex marriages. If passed, the Bill will make provision for civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage.
The Church of England, in their briefing for MP’s in February 2013 stated:
“The Church of England cannot support the Bill, because of its concern for the uncertain and unforeseen consequences for wider society and the common good when marriage is redefined in gender-neutral terms”
The Bill is due to have its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on a date to be announced which will decide if the bill should progress to the House of Lords and thus become law.