On 10 December, a Department of Culture, Media and Sport Press Release announced “First Same-Sex weddings to happen from 29 March 2014”, which carried the sub-heading “Detailed timetable announced”. Unsurprisingly, this was readily taken up by the media, and for those intending to marry under these provisions, the critical dates are:
– 13 March 2014: couples wishing to marry on 29 March 2014 must formally give notice of their intention, as outlined in the guidance Marriages and civil partnerships in the UK;
– March 2014:Same-sex couples who married abroad under foreign law and are currently treated as civil partners will instead be recognised as being married in England and Wales.
– June 2013: Same-sex weddings in some British consulates and armed forces bases overseas will be possible, and arrangements for same-sex weddings in military chapels will be in place;
– Before the end of 2014: “The government is working hard to ensure that couples wishing to convert their civil partnerships into marriages, and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married, will be able to do so as soon as possible.
However, the Press Release also sounded a slight note of caution
“the first same-sex weddings can now happen several months earlier than anticipated, subject to Parliament’s approval of various statutory instruments, to be laid in the new year”, [our emphasis].
Apart from sections 15 and 16 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, [which require the Secretary of State to arrange for reviews of: the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in England and Wales; and survivor benefits under occupational pension schemes in relation to married same-sex couples], prior to 31 October 2013, no other substantive provisions of the Act had been brought in force as required by section 21(3).
However, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Commencement No. 1) Order 2013 a number of other provisions of the Act were brought into force, (art.3) and importantly, those conferring power to make subordinate legislation (art. 2),
“To the extent that the following provisions of the Act confer or relate to the power to make subordinate legislation, those provisions come into force on the day after the day on which this Order is made, for the purpose of exercising any power (arising under or by virtue of that provision) to make subordinate legislation—(a) section 4 and Schedule 1; and (b) paragraphs 5, 8 and 14 of Schedule 4 and section 11(4) in so far as it relates to those paragraphs.
It is these powers that will enable the Minister to introduce the necessary secondary legislation, One component of which is the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Registration of Shared Buildings) Regulations 2013, for which the Ministry of Justice published a short consultation in October, discussed here.
On 9-10 December, the House of Bishops met for two days in York to discuss a wide range of business, including the Pilling Report. The Minister’s announcement that the first same-sex weddings are likely to happen several months earlier than anticipated brings a new urgency to their deliberations on the approach of the Church of England to human sexuality. As noted in the Report, [at paras. 382, 383],
382 […] Moreover, some form of celebration of civil partnerships in a church context is widely seen as a practice that would give a clear signal that gay and lesbian people are welcome in church.
383. This is a question on which our group is not of one mind – not least since a willingness to offer public recognition and prayer for a committed same-sex relationship in an act of public worship would, in practice, be hard to implement now for civil partnerships without also doing so for same-sex marriage (which, like civil partnerships, makes no assumption, in law, about sexual activity).