The first same-sex weddings were celebrated in England and Wales on 29 March this year after the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force.
Yet whilst many same-sex couples were ecstatic that their relationship would finally be given equal recognition in law, many in civil partnerships were left in limbo. There was no provision for civil partners to become married without first dissolving their civil partnership. This seemed like an illogical process, given that a couple would have to satisfy the court that the relationship had broken down “irretrievably” in order for it to be dissolved.
The government has now published the draft legislation which will enable the first civil partnerships to be converted into marriages in December 2014. Sajid Javid, the former minister for Culture, Media and Sport has also confirmed that married transgender people will be able to change their legal gender without ending their marriage (with the agreement of their partner).
To complete the conversion process, civil partners will need to attend a registry office and provide certain details, evidence of their identity and sign a declaration before a registrar. Once converted, the marriage will be back-dated to the date of the civil partnership (ie it is treated as a marriage from the date the civil partnership was entered into) and is registered in a “conversion register”. The couple are given a “conversion certificate” confirming that they are now married.
Those that celebrated their civil partnership before same-sex marriage was introduced on 29 March 2014 can convert their civil partnership for free before 10 December 2015. After this date, there will be a fee of £45.
The majority of couples will be able to follow a straightforward “standard” procedure to convert their civil partnership. There are alternative procedures available for those who cannot get to a register office, such as housebound or detained individuals.
Whilst this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, there are still a lot of grey areas and unresolved questions not only about the conversion process, but also about equal marriage generally.
Many have complained about the “unromantic” nature of the conversion process, and had hoped it would be more akin to a celebratory ceremony than a seemingly sterile administrative process. After all, this should be a time of celebration. However, the venue where the conversion can take place is limited to a registry office, meaning that those converting their civil partnership will not have freedom of choice of where this takes place, unlike those getting married, who have a far wider choice of venues.
Although same-sex marriages are becoming increasingly recognised worldwide, there are many countries that will not recognise a same-sex marriage or a civil partnership. Interestingly, on the flip side, those who have entered into a civil partnership abroad will still be precluded from converting their partnership into a marriage in England & Wales under the current draft legislation.
Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in March this year, 1,409 couples have tied the knot. The Office for National Statistics has commented that this is a slower uptake than when civil partnerships were first introduced. The reforms of the law are not yet complete, and it is thought this figure will increase once couples in a civil partnership are able to convert to marriage.
Adding an international element to your relationship can often complicate how the law works. In those countries that do recognise a partnership, the provisions on dissolution or divorce can vary greatly to the law in England & Wales. There has also been concern that those converting will not be given a marriage certificate, and that conversion certificates will not be recognised in many situations, both at home and abroad. You should therefore be mindful of the legal implications of marrying abroad or moving abroad. British citizens living abroad and in a civil partnership or same-sex marriage that has sadly broken down are advised to seek legal advice before deciding how and where to dissolve their relationship.
Nick Boles, the newly-appointed minster with responsibility for implementing equal marriage is reviewing the draft legislation, following the concerns that have been raised. Many wait with bated breath to see how the legislation will be revised, and when, given that the first conversions are due to take place in just three months’ time.
Through TLT, I am contact with the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, and have voiced concerns about the gaps in the conversion process. At TLT, we will continue to press for a response until these issues are given full consideration
This article first appeared on www.tltsolicitors.com on 28 August 2014