Many of our friends have kindly asked Jonathan and me when we are going to get married. Sadly, the answer ids that at the moment we can’t. People already in a civil partnership may, according to the marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, convert their civil partnerships to marriage; and the effect of that conversion is that the civil partnership is dissolved and the newly created marriage is backdated to the date of the civil partnership, in our case April 2006. That warrants a celebration of course – and some of our female friends wanted plenty of notice, for hat buying purposes.
Most of the Act of 2013 comes into effect in March and the first same sex marriage ceremonies will take place on 29 March 2014, the birthday of the evil old bigot Lord Tebbit. I hope it makes him choke on his birthday cake. But for those of us already committed in a civil partnership there is no date. The Government alleges that it will take to the end of the year to change IT systems and to train staff. This strikes me as complete baloney – both of these things were presumably necessary before the introduction of marriage for same sex couples not in civil partnerships.
We have written to our MP about it. Here is an edited version (we personalised it based on our MP, the excellent Emily Thornberry, being a prominent Labour supporter of equal marriage) which others in a similar position may wish with appropriate alterations to use. We’ll let you know the response.
We are writing to you about the unexplained and unacceptable delay to the implementation of section 9 of the Act. Section 9 is the section that permits same sex couples in civil partnerships (like us) to convert their civil partnerships into marriage and have the resulting marriage backdated to the day of their civil partnership. This delay means that we, and many thousands of couples like us, must remain in the lesser status of civil partnership until at least the end of this year, almost 18 months after Royal Assent to the Act on 17 July last year.
The Government is implementing with reasonable promptitude the parts of the Act which allow couples who are not in a civil partnership to marry: those provisions enter into effect on 13 March, from which date foreign same sex marriages will be recognised and same sex couples not in a civil partnership can give notice of their intention to marry, meaning that they can marry on or after 29 March. We’re happy for those couples and glad that the Government was able to bring these provisions of the Act into force earlier than originally announced.
The announcement made by the Government originally about implementation of the Act, as reported in the press, simply mentioned the summer of this year as the date of implementation. We, like many other couples, pencilled in a date in late summer for a wedding celebration. As it became clear that the summer date did not include us we have had to rub that date out!
We understand that the Government’s excuse for the 18 month delay is that alterations to IT systems are required. But IT systems must have had to be seriously altered to allow same sex marriages for new partners to start next month. We suspect that the Government is simply not giving any serious priority to this issue, perhaps because the necessary subordinate legislation requires an affirmative resolution of each house of Parliament..
The effect of this delay is in effect to prejudice those who made an early commitment to stable and permanent same sex relationships. We have to remain in state of inequality – having to say “no, but…” in answer to the question “are you married?”. Our relationship, which is of course marriage in all but name, it is not recognised here or abroad as a marriage: whenever we travel we have to present ourselves separately at customs and immigration as if we were two friends travelling together. And perhaps most importantly it gives bigots the opportunity to pretend in public that as a couple we are in some way different from opposite sex married couples.
This is depressing for us as a couple, especially as we genuinely don’t understand why the Government is delaying. We would be very grateful indeed if you could raise with the DCMS and Maria Miller the question of why this simple process is taking so long and delaying bringing into effect an important part of this important piece of legislation, which causes us some distress as a couple.