On 17 July 2013 the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 became law in England and Wales. It provides that same sex couples will now be able to marry in civil ceremonies where a religious organisation has ‘opted in’ to conduct such ceremonies and the minister of religion agrees.
In addition, existing civil partners will be able to convert their partnership to a marriage. It also confirms that married individuals who wish to change their legal gender can do so without having to end their marriage first.
This is all positive and progressive news for same sex couples and it is believed that the first same sex marriage may be able to take place as early as next summer (2014). There are now 16 countries worldwide with same-sex marriage legislation. Along with England and Wales; Brazil, Uruguay, New Zealand and France have all passed same-sex marriage laws this year. The Netherlands was the first country to legislate on same-sex marriage in April 2001.
However, couples who wish to marry are completely dependent upon their religious organisation having decided to ‘opt in’ to these arrangements. It will still not be possible for same-sex couples to be married in the Church of England and Wales. The Church of England and Wales has been banned in law from performing same-sex marriages. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow and his civil partner Tony (who were the first gay couple to be named on the birth certificate of a child in 1999) have launched the first legal challenge to the Church of England and Wales’ ban on same sex marriage.
It is clear that there will be deeply held opinions of both sides of this argument and the outcome of this case will have a huge impact upon the future of same sex marriage and religious ceremonies.
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