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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:

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.

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.

2000: The law was changed which allowed gay and bisexual people to be in the armed forces.

2002: Same sex couples (and also unmarried couples) were allowed to adopt children.

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 married couples, 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.

2011: The law further changed to allow same sex couples to register their civil partnership on religious premises.  

Read more about civil partnerships and how they compare to marriage. 

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.

Initially, civil partnerships were only available to same sex couples. It was only in 2019 when that changed. See below.

2013: Saw the introduction of equal marriage when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act officially became law. 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. 

2014: The first same sex marriage took place in England and Wales. 

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 this case, opposite sex couples can now enter into civil partnerships. 

In England and Wales currently opposite sex civil partnerships cannot yet be converted to marriage but the Government is also launching a consultation to bring it in line with same sex civil partnerships converting to marriage.

2020: Northern Ireland’s first same sex couple married on 11 February 2020. Northern Ireland’s new legislation brings it in line with the rest of the UK, save that civil partnerships cannot convert to a marriage in Northern Ireland as yet but a consultation process is due to start later in 2020. 

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 to help to safeguard their assets on death or separation.

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