Gay marriage law a year on: but it is still not equal

The legalisation of gay marriage a year ago was a welcome development, but same-sex couples who wed do not yet enjoy the same rights as married heterosexuals, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said.

Gay couples, for example, are not guaranteed the same financial benefits as heterosexual couples if their spouse dies.

Mr Tatchell said: “It’s great that we’ve got same-sex marriage but it’s not equal marriage. We now have segregation in marriage law, with two separate marriage statutes: the 1973 Act for opposite-sex couples and the 2013 Act for same-sex couples. Separate is not equal.”

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force at one minute past midnight on March 29, 2014.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 95 marriages took place in England and Wales in the first three days after the law came into force.

The only currently available statistics, for the first three months of the year, tell us that a total of 1,409 marriages took place between same sex couples between March 29 and June 30, 2014.

Despite the misgivings of Mr Tatchell, the law itself has progressed over the last year.

After a delay of nine months, civil partners received the right to convert their relationships into marriage on December 10, 2014.

Such couples can do so at the registry office or in another venue where same sex marriage is allowed. Once married, the couples have their marriage certificates backdated and their marriage is then deemed to have legally started from the date of their original civil partnership.

This creates an interesting point for same sex divorce. Legally, you need to have been married for a year before you can file for divorce, but if a couple entered a civil partnership back in 2005 and then converted this into a marriage in 2014, under the terms of the Act they would legally have been married for over nine years at that point and therefore entitled to divorce.

The new law was also a positive step forward for transsexual spouses. A transsexual person who wants the same rights as others of their acquired gender can now obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Marriage and civil partnership have also had an impact on family and community life. In particular, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies have provided opportunities for family members as well as friends, neighbours and work colleagues to acknowledge gay and lesbian relationships.