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Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013-14

Royal Assent

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Summary

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced to Parliament by the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, on 24 January 2013 and published on the 25 January 2013. 

It aims to allow same-sex marriages to be recognised in England and Wales and to allow religious organisations to offer them, whilst also introducing a legislative 'quadruple lock' designed to protect churches from being forced to conduct them. 

The Bill will allow for:

• Same sex couples to get married in a religious ceremony, as long as the religious institution opts-in.

• The conversion of civil partnerships into marriages.

• Religious organisations that refuse to conduct same-sex marriages to be free from legal challenge.

In order for religious organisations to marry same-sex couples, the following conditions would need to be met:

• The governing body of the religious organisation would need to permit same-sex marriages.

• Places of worship would need to be registered to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

• The minister would need to be willing to conduct the marriage.

The Church of England and Church in Wales are both excluded from the provisions to avoid a clash in Canon Law.

Labour has backed the government's proposals, as has Stonewall. Religious organisations including Liberal Judaism, Unitarians and Quakers are in favour of the Bill. However, the leaderships of the Catholic Church, the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the Church of England and Church in Wales have expressed opposition to the Bill, and there are divisions in the Conservative Party over the measures.

Stonewall welcomed the result of the Bill's progression in the House Commons, stating that "tonight's success means that the Bill has survived all of the attempts made thus far to undermine it". The Peter Tatchell Foundation described the progress of the Bill as a "welcome advance towards equal marriage" but warned that it was still not a guarantor of "full equality". The TUC called on MPs not to exempt public officials from recognising equal marriage, whilst the Conservative Grassroots said that the Bill was "un-conservative, divisive and costing us dearly in votes". The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill went forward for third reading having survived numerous amendments to change, and some argued, "wreck" it.

In the Commons' report stage debate, MPs voted down Tim Loughton's amendment that would have enabled heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, if gay marriage went ahead. The amendment was defeated by 375 votes to 70. Instead, a Labour-backed plan to introduce an immediate review on civil partnerships was agreed to. This review is expected to take place in a matter of months, rather than after five years - as had initially been agreed to by ministers. It is anticipated that this decision will ensure a safer passage for the Bill through Parliament. Additionally, an amendment to allow the Church of Wales to review their position at a later date was agreed.

The Bill was subjected to close scrutiny during three days day of committee stage debate in the House of Lords. On the first day, Lord Hylton's amendment replacing 'marriage' with 'union' was withdrawn and subsequently, clause 1 was agreed to without amendment. On the second day, peers discussed a number of amendments relating to the status of religious bodies under the terms of the proposed legislation. After prolonged discussion, an amendment moved by crossbench peer Baroness O'Loan - that sought to add extra protections for religious organisations - was withdrawn. On the final day, a range of amendments were discussed, including one moved by Labour Peer Lord Alli in relation to pensions for same sex spouses. Further amendments were moved on issues relating to the marriages of those undertaking gender reassingment and extending the eligibility of those allowed to register as civil partners.

During the report stage, an amendment concerning pension entitlements for same-sex couples provoked an extended debate but was withdrawn. A group of government amendments, designed to assist applicants for gender recognition by making the new fast-track procedure available to trans-people, were agreed to. In addition, a controversial amendment that would have extended the civil partnerships review to consider eligibility to unpaid carers and those whom they care for was defeated by a comfortable margin. The Bill was passed to the third reading stage.

In the third reading stage, peers agreed to a group of amendments concerning occupational pension benefits, the effect of which was to require a government review of the differences in survivor benefits between opposite and same-sex couples in legal relationships. The Bill was passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

During the ping-pong stage of the Bill, members commented on the primary issues to which the Lords amendments applied, including the review of humanist weddings and occupational pension schemes, provisions for ensuring the protection of freedom of expression concerning beliefs on marriage and on the fast-track procedure for gender recognition certificates for trans-people. After a brief debate, the amendments were agreed to.