At the end of April 2013, France became the 14th country in the world to legalise gay marriage. France joined a growing list of countries who have legislated for gay marriage including; New Zealand, Uruguay, Denmark, Argentina, Iceland, Poland, Sweden, Norway, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, along with a number of US States.
Greater Rights for Gay Couples
The new legislation should be enacted by June and will allow same sex couples to marry and adopt children. The move has been welcomed by international gay rights activists as a huge step forward, but opposed by religious organisations and conservative opposition groups, who argue for the preservation of the 'traditional' family.
Prior to this change, French law allowed same sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. The availability of gay marriage to homosexual couples now means the provision of strengthened rights, particularly over inheritance, and equality of rights whether couples identify as homosexual or heterosexual.
Although campaigns have been hard fought, the effects may not be so dramatic. Spain legalised gay marriage in 2005; however, since then gay marriage has represented only 2% of the total number of marriages. Applying these figures to France would suggest approximately 5,000 gay marriages a year.
Gay Marriage in the UK
Currently in Britain same sex marriage is illegal under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 although, since 2004 same sex couples have been able to enter into a Civil Partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The Act gives couples who enter into a Civil Partnership similar rights to heterosexual couples who enter into a Civil Marriage.
A Civil Partnership means that homosexual couples have equal rights to heterosexual couples in relation to taxation issues, child maintenance issues, and spousal privilege in court, amongst other rights. One of the main differences between a Civil Partnership and a Civil Marriage is that the latter, in most cases, will include religious aspects in the ceremony. In addition to this, a member of the clergy can perform a Civil Marriage but only a specified registrar can perform a Civil Partnership. There are also other similarities between the two; for example, in both civil marriages and civil partnerships the parties have to give public notice of their intentions. Both sets of records are kept as official and public documents with the registry offices.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13
The British Parliament has recently been progressing legislation which may lead to the legalisation of gay marriage. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13 was debated and approved by the House of Commons, and the Bill is soon due to be debated before the upper chamber in the House of Lords.
The Bill, should it become law, would allow for both a Civil and a Religious ceremony, subject to the approval of the religious organisation. The Bill would also allow same sex couples who have entered into a Civil Partnership to convert their partnership into a same sex marriage.
If you are affected by these developments or would like more information about civil partnerships or gay marriage, please contact Melanie Bataillard-Samuel via e-mail MBataillard-Samuel@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.