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Equal rights for all — it’s been a long time coming…

As our communities continue to welcome diversity, so do our laws.

The issue of legal recognition of same sex relationships has been a long-debated issue, not just in England and Wales but internationally too. The formalisation of the relationship and a legal recognition was one factor, the other was a quest to secure some of the protections that are afforded to opposite sex, and married, couples: it is about equality.

There has been rapid development over the last 20 years, but let’s look back over relatively recent history to see how far we have come:

  1. 1967

    Until 1967, gay and bisexual men could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if they broke the law around homosexuality.

    Being gay remains a crime in many areas of the world – see the Human Dignity Trust website for a map of countries that criminalise LGBT people.

  2. 1988

    Section 28 was introduced which meant that teachers were not allowed to 'promote' gay relationships in schools. It wasn't until 2003 that this was overturned.

  3. 2000

    The law was changed which allowed gay and bisexual people to be in the armed forces.

  4. 2002

    Same sex couples (and also unmarried couples) were allowed to adopt children.

  5. 2004

    The Civil Partnership Act came into force. This was the first legally recognised relationship for same sex couples. 

    Civil partners are able to share most of the same legal rights as marriage including property rights and pensions benefits. Importantly, pension survival benefits must be paid to same sex survivors in the same way that widows and widowers would receive them in an opposite sex marriage. In addition, surviving civil partners can inherit their partner’s inheritance tax allowance on death.

  6. 2011

    The law further changed to allow same sex couples to register their civil partnership on religious premises.

  7. 2013

    Saw the introduction of equal marriage when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act officially became law. From 2014, this allowed same sex couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies, enabled civil partners to convert their civil partnership to a marriage and enabled married individuals to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage. 

  8. 2014

    The first same sex marriage took place in England and Wales.

  9. 2019

    Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan successfully secured a Supreme Court ruling that restricting civil partnerships to same sex couples was in breach of human rights. As a result of legislation to extend civil partnership rights, since 31 December 2019 it has possible for two people of the opposite sex to enter into a civil partnership.

  10. 2020

    Northern Ireland’s first same sex couple married on 11 February 2020. Northern Ireland’s legislation brings it in line with the rest of the UK. 

As our communities continue to welcome diversity so do our laws.

Legal advice is available not only to help a couple decide on the best option for them but also help to safeguard their assets on death or separation. For more about civil partnerships and how they compare to marriage, see our article on the difference between same sex marriages and civil partnerships.

A cohabiting couple, whether same sex or opposite sex, with no legally formalised relationship, will not have any of these benefits. It is also crucial for cohabiting couples to make a will — read more about unmarried couples and the importance of making a will.

For guidance or support on any issues relating to family law, contact our family law solicitors.

For advice on LGBTQ+ family law issues, contact our LGBTQ+ family law solicitors.

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