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Consultation opens on gay marriage in England and Wales

On 14th March, the UK government launched a consultation paper on same-sex marriage, with the intention of introducing civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales by 2015 (Scotland and Northern Ireland will legislate the issue separately ; Scotland has already held a consultation process).

Homosexual couples in the UK can currently obtain a so-called “civil partnership”, which was introduced in 2005, but while this grants them the same legal rights and tax benefits as married heterosexual couples, there remain several crucial differences. For example, couples having a civil partnership are legally not permitted to describe themselves as “married” ; they must use the term “civil partners”. In addition, couples wishing to get married can choose between having a religious or a secular ceremony, whereas for a civil partnership only the latter is possible. Civil partnerships also lack some of the more traditional elements of marriage : couples having a civil partnership ceremony do not have to say vows, and adultery and non-consummation cannot be given as reasons for dissolving the union.

The paper proposes to allow same-sex couples to have civil marriage ceremonies, to say vows and to describe themselves as married. The rules for dissolution of a same-sex marriage will be the same as those for a marriage between a man and a woman. However, the ban on religious ceremonies will remain, even if the religious institution in question is happy to perform a homosexual marriage. This has been criticised by some, who see it as continuing discrimination. However, church leaders and Christian groups have strongly criticised the proposals to introduce even civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

But it is unlikely that the church, or indeed any other protesters, will prevent the proposals being implemented. The consultation paper focuses on HOW gay marriage should be introduced, rather than whether it should be. Ministers have confirmed that before the next election in 2015, gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to marry in England and Wales.

However, laws concerning homosexual marriage and partnerships vary considerably across the EU. Marriage between two individuals of the same gender is legal in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, with Denmark planning to legalise it in June 2012. At the other end of the spectrum, homosexual couples can gain no official recognition of their union at all in Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Read the full consultation paper here : http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/public...

Photo : Gay pride 013 by Guillaume Paumier on flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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