With Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Ascent, the England and Wales Same-Sex Marriage Bill became law this week.
The bill, which was also given its final approval by the House of Lords and House of Commons, grants almost no new rights but instead extends the term marriage to same-sex couples who until now entered into a separate institution, civil partnerships. The legislation provides for the conversion of civil partnerships to marriages.
The measure, which had been backed by all major parties and was championed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, has been a focus for Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempted overhaul of the Conservative Party’s image, though a significant body of Conservative back benchers voted against the legislation during the bill’s time in the House of Commons.
Despite particularly vocal opposition, the bill received overwhelming support in both chambers and was sent for the Queen’s Royal Ascent, the now largely procedural rubber stamp from the sovereign, which was received on Wednesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday wrote the following for leading European news site Pink News:
I am proud that we have made same-sex marriage happen. I am delighted that the love two people have for each other – and the commitment they want to make – can now be recognised as equal. I have backed this reform because I believe in commitment, responsibility and family. I don’t want to see people’s love divided by law.
Not all were pleased with the vote and some Tory MPs are continuing to grumble, with MP Gerald Howarth quoted as saying it is “astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted, has been bulldozed through both Houses. I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative party is not a good way of going about it.”
The main objections to the bill were that it would force religious institutions and individuals to act against their beliefs.
Such calls ring somewhat hollow given that current law is clear that churches cannot be forced to recognize or officiate same-sex marriages, that the bill contains specific clauses to that effect, and that the legislation even contains a so-called quadruple lock safe guard that actually bans the Church of England and the Church of Wales from recognizing marriage equality without a legislative change.
It seems almost certain that Scotland will now follow England and Wales and legalize marriage equality, with its own legislation already in the works.
The Republic of Ireland, as part of wider constitutional reform, will put same-sex marriage to a public referendum in 2014 with advocates hopeful that, through hard campaigning and outreach, marriage equality can be won.
Northern Ireland, however, faces a marriage equality fight of a different kind.
Politicians in Northern Ireland, which like Scotland largely decides its own domestic law, have shunned calls to legalize marriage equality. As such, Amnesty International announced earlier this year that it was prepared to launch legal action to try to force the issue.
While the European Court of Human Rights has strictly refused to recognize a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, the very fact that England and Wales, and soon Scotland, are offering marriage rights means the landscape may be more favorable on grounds of keeping uniformity in law.
The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales will begin by summer of 2014.
Image credit: Thinkstock.