The British Government on Thursday launched its consultation on legalizing civil same-sex marriage.
The consultation, which will last for 12 weeks through to June 14, is not on whether the government should change the law — it has already decided to do so — but rather aims to hear public views on the proposals the government has drawn up through which to make the necessary changes.
The consultation starts by making it clear that the change to the law will in no way effect heterosexual marriages.
Next, the government then lays out what the change will mean for same-sex couples, saying that they will be able to choose between a civil marriage ceremony on secular premises or a civil partnership registration on secular or religious premises (while religious institutions who do not wish to participate remain exempt per existing law).
The consultation informs us that couples in existing civil partnerships will be able to convert their partnerships to marriage, but couples will not be eligible for a marriage ceremony “on religious premises and through religious means.”
The strict caveat that this is only a proposal to legalize civil marriage, and in no way impacts religious definitions of marriage, is highlighted throughout.
The consultation also spells out what this change will mean for couples where one partner is transexual.
Currently, if a person is married and transitioning to be the same sex as their partner the law requires that they divorce and then get a civil partnership.
The new proposal means that individuals who are married could remain married and still obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate.
Transitioning individuals in civil partnerships will be able to convert their partnerships to a marriage and then obtain a full Gender Recognition Certificate, however individuals will not be able to remain in their civil partnership as this would create an opposite-sex civil partnership which is not legal and will not be legalized under these proposals.
The consultation goes on to ask a variety of questions, including:
- Do you agree or disagree that all couples, regardless of their gender, should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony?
- The government does not propose to open up religious marriage to same-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?
- If you are in a civil partnership would you wish to take advantage of this policy and convert your civil partnership into a marriage?
- If you are a married transsexual person, would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage while obtaining a full Gender Recognition Certificate?
- If you are the spouse of a transsexual person, would you want to take advantage of this policy and remain in your marriage whilst your spouse obtained a full Gender Recognition Certificate?
The consultation, while making it clear that the government currently has no plans to do this, also asks whether civil partnerships should be open to straight couples.
The impact assessment document(.pdf) issued with the launch of the consultation suggests that the cost of changing current laws will be around £3.7m, far more modest than some opposition forces had suggested.
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of gay rights group Stonewall, is quoted as praising the start of the consultation:
‘We’re delighted that this consultation is finally taking place. As Stonewall’s draft Marriage Bill shows, the steps necessary to extend the legal form of marriage to same-sex couples needn’t take much parliamentary time. We look forward to this important measure being included in the Queen’s Speech on May 9 and being enacted as soon as possible.’
Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently had to defend comments he made that legalizing civil same-sex marriage is, in human rights terms, the same as legalizing slavery.
Not all religious responses have been negative however, with Rev Dr David Ison, the new dean of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, having said that the Church of England should embrace gay civil marriage.
British readers wishing to take part in the consultation can do so online through this link – the site also provides the relevant background details to inform your opinions about what is being proposed.