Thank you to everyone who helped win same-sex marriage. Your lobbying and generosity has meant that we are another huge step closer to equality.
Although the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is a very welcome and important advance, it is not full equality, as we explain below.
Moreover, the government is maintaining the ban on civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples. This is discrimination. It is not equal human rights. There are efforts to end the remaining discrimination. This includes the legal bid by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan to overturn the current legal prohibition on heterosexual civil partnerships.
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Same-sex marriages are legalised under a new law that is separate and different from the Marriage Act 1949. Separate and different are not equal.
There are six aspects of discrimination in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act:
- Pension inheritance rights are fewer on death of a same-sex marriage spouse. The surviving partner is not entitled to receive the full value of their deceased partner’s pension. Employers are required by law to pay same-sex survivor’s pensions based only on contributions made since 2005. Although many employers are likely to pay out from 1988 onwards, this is discretionary and may not be the full value of the lifetime pension contributions by a same-sex spouse. This means that pension contributions made in the years before 2005/1988 are in many instances discounted and will not be received by the surviving same-sex marriage partner.
- Although David Cameron argued that same-sex marriage is an issue of equality, the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships remains. Straight couples continue to be prohibited from having a civil partnership, even though the government’s own public consultation on equal marriage found that 61% of respondents supported the right of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership if they want one. Only 24% disagreed. In the Netherlands, two-thirds of civil partnerships are between male-female couples. A similar take up is likely in the UK if civil partnerships were available to heterosexuals.
- The long-standing grounds for the annulment of a marriage or for a divorce – non-consummation and adultery – do not apply in the case of same-sex marriages. To many people, these are antiquated aspects of marriage law that should be repealed. Nevertheless, this differential in the law governing same-sex and opposite-sex married couples is not equality.
- There is no restoration of the marriages of transgender people that were forcibly annulled as a precondition for them securing a gender recognition certificate. Moreover, the spouse of a transgender person must consent to the marriage continuing after the issue of a certificate.
- Under the so-called ‘quadruple lock’ legislation, the Church of England and the Church in Wales are explicitly banned from performing religious same-sex marriages. While other faiths can ‘opt in’ to marry LGBT people, these two denominations are prohibited. This is not only homophobic discrimination; it is also an attack on religious freedom.
- The special requirements for registering premises for the conduct of religious same-sex marriages are more restrictive than for opposite-sex marriages in religious premises. In the case of premises shared for faith services by several small denominations – which is often the case with anti-gay, evangelical churches and pro-LGBT churches – all the sharing faith organisations have to give their permission for the premises to be used for same-sex marriages. In effect, anti-gay churches will have a veto over pro-gay churches.