Same-sex marriage is legal in all parts of the United Kingdom. As marriage is a devolved legislative matter, different parts of the UK legalised same-sex marriage at different times; it has been recognised and performed in England and Wales since March 2014, in Scotland since December 2014, and in Northern Ireland since January 2020.
Same-sex marriage is legal in nine of the fourteen British Overseas Territories. It has been recognised in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands since 2014, Akrotiri and Dhekelia and the British Indian Ocean Territory (for UK military personnel only) since 3 June 2014, the Pitcairn Islands since 14 May 2015, the British Antarctic Territory since 13 October 2016, Gibraltar since 15 December 2016, the Falkland Islands since 29 April 2017, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha since 20 December 2017,[a] and Bermuda since 23 November 2018. Civil partnerships were legalised in the Cayman Islands on 4 September 2020.
Same-sex marriage is legal in the Crown dependencies. It has been recognised and performed in the Isle of Man since 22 July 2016, in Jersey since 1 July 2018, and in the Bailiwick of Guernsey at different times: in the jurisdiction of Guernsey since 2 May 2017, in Alderney since 14 June 2018, and in Sark since 23 April 2020.
In common law, a marriage between persons of the same-sex was void ab initio. In 1680, Arabella Hunt married "James Howard"; in 1682 the marriage was annulled on the ground that Howard was in fact Amy Poulter, a 'perfect woman in all her parts', and two women could not validly marry. In 1866, in Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee (a case of polygamy), Lord Penzance's judgment began "Marriage as understood in Christendom is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others."
In Talbot (otherwise Poyntz) v. Talbot in 1967, the prohibition was held to extend where one spouse was a post-operative transsexual, with Mr Justice Ormerod stating "Marriage is a relationship which depends on sex, not on gender". In 1971, the Nullity of Marriage Act was passed, explicitly banning marriages between same-sex couples in England and Wales. The parliamentary debates on the 1971 act included discussion on the issue of transsexualism but not homosexuality.
The 1971 act was later replaced by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which also declared that a marriage was void if the parties were not respectively male and female. Prohibition of same-sex marriages was also included in the marriage legislation of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Marriage Order (Northern Ireland) 2003 stated there was a legal impediment to marriage if the parties were of the same sex, but the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) and Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2019 removed this provision. The Marriage Act (Scotland) 1977 had a similar legal impediment, but following the passage of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, the act no longer prohibits marriages if both parties are of the same sex.
On 17 July 2013, royal assent was granted to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Welsh: Deddf Priodas (Cyplau o'r un rhyw) 2013).[b] On 10 December 2013, Her Majesty's Government announced that the first same-sex marriages would take place from 29 March 2014.
In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act (Welsh: Deddf Partneriaeth Sifil 2004)[c] was passed and came into effect in December 2005. It created civil partnerships, which gave same-sex couples who entered into them the same rights and responsibilities of marriage. These partnerships were called 'gay marriages' by some of the British media, however, the Government made clear that they were not marriages.
Since Section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 took effect, any couple registered in a civil partnership is granted the ability to convert that partnership into a marriage.
On 26 August 2003, Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, both British university professors, legally married in British Columbia, Canada. However, on their return their marriage was not recognised under British law. Under the subsequent Civil Partnership Act, it was instead converted into a civil partnership. The couple sued for recognition of their marriage, arguing that it was legal in the country in which it was executed and met the requirements for recognition of overseas marriages and should thus be treated in the same way as one between opposite-sex couples. They rejected the conversion of their marriage into a civil partnership believing it to be both practically and symbolically a lesser substitute. They were represented by the civil rights group Liberty. The group's legal director James Welch said it was a matter of fairness and equality for the couple's marriage to be recognised and that they "shouldn't have to settle for the second-best option of a civil partnership".
The High Court announced its judgement on 31 July 2006, ruling that their union would not be granted marriage status and would continue to be recognised in England and Wales as a civil partnership. The president of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, gave as his reason that "abiding single sex relationships are in no way inferior, nor does English Law suggest that they are by according them recognition under the name of civil partnership", and that marriage was an "age-old institution" which, he suggested, was by "longstanding definition and acceptance" a relationship between a man and a woman. He agreed with the couple's claim that they were being discriminated against by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, but considered that "To the extent that by reason of that distinction it discriminates against same-sex partners, such discrimination has a legitimate aim, is reasonable and proportionate, and falls within the margin of appreciation accorded to Convention States."Attorney General Peter Goldsmith, as second respondent, sought £25,000 in legal costs from the couple, which the High Court ordered them to pay.
Wilkinson and Kitzinger said they were "deeply disappointed" with the judgement, not just for themselves, but for "lesbian and gay families across the nation". They said that "denying our marriage does nothing to protect heterosexual marriage, it simply upholds discrimination and inequality" and also said that the ruling insulted LGBT people and treats their relationships as inferior to heterosexual ones; not worthy of marriage but only of an "expressly different, and entirely separate institution". They said, however, that they believed the judgement "won't stand the test of time" and that they looked forward to the day when "there is full equality in marriage". They had originally announced their intention to appeal the decision but later abandoned it due to lack of funds.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that the establishment's aggressive opposition to same-sex marriage and the successful demand of £25,000 from the couple damaged the Government's "gay-friendly credentials". He also claimed that the demand in legal costs was designed to damage the couple financially so they would not be able to appeal. He said he was "angry but not downcast" about the ruling and that this was only a temporary setback in the "long struggle for marriage equality".
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Equal Marriage, a campaign for same-sex marriage in Scotland, was established by the Equality Network in 2008, with a focus on securing same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland. In England and Wales, the first major campaign for same-sex marriage was Equal Love established by Peter Tatchell in 2010. The first major campaign against same-sex marriage in Britain was Scotland for Marriage established in 2011, followed by the Coalition for Marriage in England and Wales in 2012. Subsequent campaigns for and against same-sex marriage have been established by a wide variety of organisations, including the Coalition for Equal Marriage and Out4Marriage, both established in England in 2012. In Northern Ireland, a campaign for full same-sex marriage was established by LGBT rights activist and political campaigner Gary Spedding in June 2012 with the specific goal of challenging social attitudes whilst lobbying the Northern Ireland Assembly to enact legislation to update the Marriage Order (Northern Ireland) 2003.
Conservative: During the run-up to the 2010 general election, the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said that a Conservative government would be happy to "consider the case" for ending the ban on same-sex marriage, although he was criticised for not making any specific promises. On 4 May 2010, the party published a "Contract for Equalities" which said it would 'consider' recognising civil partnerships as marriages if elected.
Labour: In April 2010, Labour Minister for Equality Harriet Harman when asked about same-sex marriage said the issue was a "developing area" and that the government still had a "long way to go" with gay rights. Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government did not allow same-sex marriage because it was "intimately bound up with questions of religious freedom". During the 2010 Labour leadership election campaign, each of the Labour candidates expressed their support for reform to lead to the recognition of same-sex marriage. Following Ed Miliband's victory, it became Labour party policy, with the party welcoming HM Government's consultation and calling for legislation to be brought forth as soon as possible.
Liberal Democrats: Leader Nick Clegg stated in 2009 that his party backs legalisation. On 4 July 2009, in an article for LabourList, Clegg wrote that "although civil partnerships have been a step forward, until same sex marriage is permitted it is impossible to claim gay and straight couples are treated equally." Following this, the party's LGBT rights group LGBT+ Liberal Democrats launched a petition "Marriage Without Borders" calling for all gender restrictions on marriage and civil partnerships to be lifted, and for same-sex relationships to be recognised across Europe and internationally. The petition was run at Manchester Pride and Reading Pride in 2009, and launched online in January 2010, following an interview with Clegg in Attitude magazine in which he reaffirmed his commitment to equal marriage. However, this did not make it into the party's manifesto. In an interview in July 2010, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Simon Hughes confirmed that the Coalition Government was planning to open marriage to same-sex couples, saying, "It would be appropriate in Britain in 2010, 2011, for there to be the ability for civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally... The state ought to give equality. We're halfway there. I think we ought to be able to get there in this parliament".
Scottish Liberal Democrats: At their 2010 spring conference, a motion was passed calling on the Scottish Government to allow same-sex couples to marry, describing the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage as a "discrimination that needs to end". In September 2010, the Liberal Democrats at their Autumn Federal Conference voted to make same-sex marriage a party policy at the Westminster level.
Green Party of England and Wales: On 22 May 2009, the Green Party called for an end to the ban on civil marriages between same-sex couples in Britain and in other EU member states. Party leader Caroline Lucas said the party wants marriage for same-sex couples and that married same-sex couples who travel throughout Europe should be able to have their relationship recognised on the same basis as married heterosexual couples. Peter Tatchell, who was the party's candidate for Oxford East at the time, said there is a "confusing patchwork" of different partnership laws throughout Europe and that "for a majority of lesbian and gay couples their legal rights stop at their own borders". He said, the "best and most universally recognised system of partnership" is civil marriage and, "anything less is second class and discrimination".
At their Yearly Meeting in 2009, the Quakers decided to recognise opposite-sex and same-sex marriages equally and perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, making them the first mainstream religious body in Britain to do so. Under the law at that time, registrars were not allowed to legally officiate at a marriage between same-sex couples but the Quakers stated that the law did not preclude them from "playing a central role in the celebration and recording of same-sex marriages" and asked the government to change the law so that these marriages would be recognised. In a joint press release in 2012, the Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and Unitarians gave their endorsement to the same-sex marriage consultation.
The largest Christian denominations have been wholly opposed to the legislation to recognise and perform same-sex marriages. The leaders of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have been vocal in opposition, urging both parishioners and schools within its care to sign a petition against the government plans. The same was the case in Scotland. The leaders of the Church of England were concerned that the legalisation regarding same-sex marriage would undermine the Church's position as the state religion of England. The Methodist Church of Great Britain, in responding to the government consultation on same-sex marriage, acknowledged that many Methodist churches had, over the last 20 years, affirmed and celebrated the participation of gays and lesbians in a union, but noted that the Methodist church could not use the word "marriage" with reference to same-sex unions.
In 2012, the Muslim Council of Britain launched a campaign against same-sex marriage. The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue also came out in opposition of the plans, stating that same-sex marriage is "against Jewish law".
Opinion polls have shown general support for same-sex marriage among Britons. Attitudes towards homosexuality amongst the British public have become more tolerant over time; according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, in 1983 approximately 50% to 70% of respondents of the three major political parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat) regarded homosexuality as "always wrong" or "mostly wrong" and in 1993 opposition to homosexuality was reported to have slightly increased amongst all parties. However, by 2003 attitudes had become more tolerant, with 25% to 50% of respondents regarding homosexuality as always or mostly wrong and by 2013, only around 20% to 35% of respondents in each party felt the same way. Liberal Democrat respondents tended to be less likely to regard homosexuality as wrong than Labour or Conservative respondents across each survey.
A 2004 poll by Gallup reported that 52% agreed that 'marriages between homosexuals' should be recognised, while 45% said they should not. The poll also found that 65% supported allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions. A 2006 Eurobarometer survey reported that 46% of Britons agreed that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe, slightly higher than the EU average of 44%. A poll conducted in September 2008 by ICM Research for The Observer found that 55% of Britons believed that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, with 45% against.
An opinion poll conducted in June 2009 by Populus for The Times reported that 61% of the British public agreed with the statement "Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships", while 33% disagreed. Support was highest among those aged between 25 and 34, where 78% agreed and 19% disagreed. It was lowest amongst those over 65 where 37% agreed and 52% disagreed. A majority of both men and women agreed, but support was higher among women (67%) than men (55%). In terms of voting intention, 73% of Liberal Democrats, 64% of Labour voters and 53% of Conservatives agreed that same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
A poll conducted by Angus Reid in July 2010 showed that 78% of British people supported either same-sex marriage or civil partnerships for same-sex couples, with 41% opting for same-sex marriage and 37% opting for civil partnerships. Support for no legal unions for same-sex couples decreased by 3% from August 2009.
According to the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 61% of Scotland's population supported same-sex marriage, 19% did not, and 18% neither agreed nor disagreed. In a similar poll in 2002, 42% of Scotland's population supported same-sex marriage. In 2006, 53% of Scots backed same-sex marriage.
In July 2011, a representative survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed that 43% of Britons believed same-sex couples in Britain should be legally allowed to marry, 34% thought same-sex couples should only be allowed to form civil partnerships, and 15% would grant no legal recognition to same-sex couples.
A poll published by YouGov in March 2012 showed that 43% of British people supported same-sex marriage, while 32% supported civil partnerships, and 16% were opposed to any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Support was particularly high amongst women, young people, people in Scotland and Liberal Democrat voters. Support was lower among the working class, older people, Conservative voters, and men in general. In the same poll, 62% expressed a belief that homosexual relationships had the same value as heterosexual ones, but 47% of people supported the right of the Church of England to defend different-sex marriage and 37% disagreed.
A June 2012 YouGov survey indicated increasing support for LGBT rights among the British people. The report found that 71% were in favour of same-sex marriage. Two YouGov polls in December 2012 found that 55% of the population were in favour of introducing same-sex marriage.
Another poll in May 2013 confirmed public support for the bill, with 53% in favour of same-sex marriage. A second poll in May showed a similar level of support (54%), and also found that 58% of those who considered same-sex marriage an important election issue would be more likely to vote for a party that supported it. A May 2013 Ipsos poll found 55% of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage.
A poll by BBC Radio in March 2014 found that 68% of respondents supported same-sex marriage and 26% opposed it. The research also found that younger people were more likely to support same-sex marriage, with 80% support from 18-34-year-olds, compared with 44% of over-65s. 75% of women were in favour, compared with 61% of men.
According to an Ipsos poll, published in April 2018, 73% of the British public supported same-sex marriage, while 8% believed it should be banned. A further 13% personally disapproved of it, but did not wish to have it banned again. Additionally, the same poll found that 66% would approve of a royal same-sex wedding.
A Pew Research Center poll, conducted between April and August 2017 and published in May 2018, showed that 77% of Britons supported same-sex marriage, 20% were opposed and 3% didn't know or refused to answer. When divided by religion, 83% of non-practicing Christians, 82% of religiously unaffiliated people and 63% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage. Opposition was 13% among 18-34-year-olds.
A June 2018 YouGov opinion poll found that 80% of British people supported the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, with that number decreasing among Northern Irish respondents. 70% of Conservative voters, 89% of Labour voters and 90% of Liberal Democrat voters were in favour of its introduction. Among "Remain" voters, 90% supported same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, whereas "Leave" voters supported it at 68% (this was at a time when in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum the issue of Brexit dominated British politics).
The 2019 Eurobarometer found that 85% of Britons thought same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 12% were against.
On 17 September 2011, at the Liberal Democrat party conference, Lynne Featherstone announced that Her Majesty's Government would launch a consultation in March 2012 on how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples with the intention of any legislative changes being made by the next general election. The Prime Minister's Office let it be known that David Cameron had personally intervened in favour of legalising same-sex unions, and on 5 October 2011 the Conservative Party Conference applauded Cameron's support for same-sex marriage in his Leader's Speech.
On 12 March 2012, the Government of the United Kingdom launched the consultation on equal civil marriage in England and Wales. The government proposals were:
The following political and media organisations expressed their support for same-sex marriage legislation in England and Wales:
The following political parties expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage legislation in England and Wales:
The following parties had no official position or a position of neutrality on either the issue or the legislation as it applies to England and Wales:
On 11 December 2012, the Government released its response to the consultation. Of the 228,000 responses to the consultation, via the online form, email or correspondence, 53 percent agreed that all couples, regardless of their gender should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony, 46 percent disagreed, and one percent were unsure or did not answer the question. The Government also confirmed that it separately received nineteen petitions from faith groups and organisations such as the Coalition for Marriage, with over 500,000 signatures opposing same-sex marriage.
On 11 December 2012, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State Maria Miller announced that the Government would bring forward same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales in early 2013. In response to the consultation results, the proposals were extended to allow religious organisations to opt into performing same-sex marriages if they wish, and a 'quadruple-lock' of additional measures to put the protection of religious freedoms "utterly beyond doubt". These are:
The UK Government addressed consultation responses about the possibility that the European Court of Human Rights could force all churches to marry same-sex couples, stating:
Both the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights put the protection of religious belief in this matter beyond doubt. We will draft the legislation to ensure that there is a negligible chance of a successful legal challenge in any domestic court, or the ECtHR that would force any religious organisation to conduct marriages for same-sex couples against their will. Any possible claims would be brought against the Government, rather than an organisation to ensure religious organisations would not have to use their resources to fight any legal challenges.-- Equal marriage: The Government's response, December 2012
On 24 January 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced to the Commons by Maria Miller, and a full debate occurred at the second reading on 5 February. The bill retained some distinctions from marriage between a man and a woman; e.g. in divorce proceedings, adultery can only involve sexual conduct between two persons of the opposite sex, while non-consummation will not be grounds for annulment of a same-sex marriage.
The bill was examined in 13 sittings by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill Committee, a public bill committee established to scrutinise the bill line by line. The bill completed its committee stage on 12 March 2013 and had its report stage in the House of Commons on 20-21 May 2013. The third reading took place on 21 May, and was approved by 366 votes to 161, with the bill receiving its first reading in the House of Lords the same evening.
The bill had its second reading unopposed in the Lords on 4 June, after a "wrecking amendment" proposed by Lord Dear was defeated by a vote of 390-148, thus allowing the bill to proceed to the committee stage. The bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords on 15 July 2013, and the Commons accepted all of the Lords' amendments on the following day, with royal assent by Queen Elizabeth II granted on 17 July 2013.
On 10 December 2013, Maria Miller announced that same-sex marriage ceremonies would begin on 29 March 2014 in England and Wales. Couples wishing to be among the first to marry were required to give formal notice of their intention by 13 March 2014. As of 13 March 2014, couples who have entered into same-sex marriages overseas are recognised as married in England and Wales. The parts of the law that allow civil partnerships to be converted into marriages, and allow married people to change their legal gender while remaining married, took effect on 10 December 2014. Same-sex marriages in England and Wales began at midnight on 29 March 2014.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Scotland since 16 December 2014, with the first same-sex marriages occurring on 31 December 2014. The law provides that religious organisations and individual celebrants are under no obligation to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, though religious organisations are permitted to authorise their clergy to do so.
On 25 July 2012, the Scottish Government announced that it would legalise same-sex marriage. The move was announced despite opposition by the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church in Scotland. Although Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the move as the "right thing to do", she reassured churches that they would not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. During the consultation phase, ministers received over 19,000 messages from constituents about the issue.
On 4 February 2014, the Scottish Parliament held its final reading on the bill to permit same-sex marriages. The bill passed by a vote of 108-15 and received royal assent on 12 March 2014. The legislation allows religious and faith organisations to be exempted from having to conduct or be involved in same-sex marriages if it contravenes their beliefs. The first same-sex weddings occurred on 31 December 2014, though civil partnerships could be exchanged for marriage certificates from 16 December so the very first same-sex marriages under Scottish law were recognised that day.
Same-sex marriage became legal on 13 January 2020. In previous years, the Northern Ireland Assembly had voted on the issue on five occasions, winning a majority for same-sex marriage once. Previously, same-sex marriages performed in England, Wales and Scotland were recognised as civil partnerships in Northern Ireland.
Legislation to allow for the recognition of same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland has been debated in the Assembly five times since 2012. On four of those occasions, only a minority of assembly members voted in favour of same-sex marriage, though the most recent vote on the issue in November 2015 saw a majority of MLAs vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
On 27 April 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for the fourth time on the recognition of same-sex marriage. The motion for recognition was introduced by Sinn Féin and was defeated by a majority of 49 votes to 47; all DUP members in the Assembly voted against it, while all Sinn Féin, Green Party and NI21 members voted for it.
On 2 November 2015, 105 MLAs voted on a motion to recognise same-sex marriage, with 53 voting in favour and 52 voting against, the first time same-sex marriage had received majority support in the Assembly. However, the Democratic Unionist Party tabled a petition of concern, preventing the motion from having any legal effect.
Sinn Féin said that legislation regarding same-sex marriage would be a priority for the party in the Assembly elected in May 2016. On 23 June 2016, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir announced he had requested that officials in the Executive begin drafting legislation to allow same-sex marriage, stating that MLAs would much rather vote on the issue than "be forced to legislate [following] an adverse judgment" in the courts. In October 2016, First Minister Arlene Foster reaffirmed the DUP's opposition to same-sex marriage, saying the party would continue to issue a petition of concern blocking same-sex marriage in the Assembly over the next five years. The DUP won fewer than 30 seats at the March 2017 elections, meaning it lost the right to unilaterally block a bill using a petition of concern.Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, stated in February 2018 that same-sex marriage could be legislated for in Northern Ireland by the UK Parliament, and that the Conservative Government would likely allow a conscience vote for its MPs if such legislation was introduced.Labour MP Conor McGinn said he would introduce a private member's bill extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland by the end of March 2018.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 28 March 2018, and passed its first reading. The bill's second reading in the Commons was blocked by a Conservative MP on three occasions in 2018. An identical bill was introduced to the House of Lords on 27 March by Baron Hayward, and passed its first reading that day. As both bills were private member's bills without government support, they failed to progress any further. In February 2019, Lord Hayward withdrew an amendment to an unrelated government bill, which if passed would have extended same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, after Government Lords rejected the amendment and said it wanted the Northern Ireland Assembly to legalise same-sex marriage.
On 1 November 2018, royal assent was granted to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018, which contained sections describing Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage and abortion bans as human rights violations. The law did not legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, but directed the British Government to "issue guidance" to civil servants in Northern Ireland "in relation to the incompatibility of human rights with [the region's laws on the two issues]". The law passed 207-117 in the House of Commons.
In July 2019, McGinn announced his intention to attach an amendment to an upcoming administrative bill relating to Northern Ireland, which would legalise same-sex marriage three months after passage of the bill if the Northern Ireland Assembly remained suspended. Under the terms of the originally-drafted amendment, the region's executive could approve or repeal the measure upon resumption. The amendment passed in the House of Commons with 383 votes in favour and 73 votes against. McGinn's amendment, which was further amended by Lord Hayward during passage in the House of Lords, required the Secretary of State to issue regulations extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if the Assembly had not reconvened by 21 October 2019. If this occurred, then the regulations would come into effect on 13 January 2020. The bill passed its final stages in the Parliament and received royal assent on 24 July 2019, becoming the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.
On 21 October 2019, 31 unionist MLAs signed a petition to reconvene the Northern Ireland Assembly to pass legislation to keep abortion illegal. The sitting was boycotted by Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, and People Before Profit, and as a result the speaker, Robin Newton, ruled that the Assembly could not conduct business after an election unless a speaker could be elected on a cross-community vote. The sitting was therefore abandoned, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, stated in the House of Commons that the British Government would issue the regulations as obliged. The regulations came into effect on 13 January 2020, the date upon which same-sex marriage became legal in Northern Ireland. The first legal same-sex wedding ceremony in Northern Ireland took place on 11 February 2020 between Belfast couple Robyn Peoples and Sharni Edwards-Peoples.
Two legal challenges to Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage ban were heard in the High Court in November and December 2015. Two couples, Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kanem, brought the case claiming that Northern Ireland's prohibition on same-sex marriage breached their human rights. The case was heard simultaneously with a case brought in January 2015 in which two men who wed in England sought to have their marriage recognised in Northern Ireland. A ruling was handed down in August 2017; Judge John Ailbe O'Hara found against the couples and determined that there were no grounds under case law from the European Court of Human Rights that the couples' rights were violated by Northern Ireland's refusal to recognise their union as a marriage. One of the couples involved in the litigation (who were granted anonymity) said they would appeal the ruling. The appeal was heard by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal on 16 March 2018; a ruling had been expected some time in 2019. On 7 April 2020, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that same-sex couples faced unjustified discrimination while denied the opportunity to marry in Northern Ireland. But with changes to the law meaning same-sex weddings can take place in Northern Ireland since 11 February 2020, senior judges decided not to make a formal declaration on any human rights breach.
A September 2014 LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph showed that 40.1% of the population supported same-sex marriage, while 39.4% opposed and 20.5% either had or stated no opinion. Of those that gave an opinion, 50.5% supported and 49.5% opposed same-sex marriage. A poll in May 2015 found that 68% of the population supported same-sex marriage, with support rising to 75% in Belfast. A "mass rally", organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, and the Rainbow Project took place in Belfast on 13 June 2015, with a 20,000 person turnout. A June 2016 poll gave support for same-sex marriage at 70%, while those opposing it at 22%.
An April 2018 poll found support for same-sex marriage among Northern Ireland's population at 76%, while 18% were opposed.
1,409 same-sex marriages were performed between 29 March and 30 June 2014. 56% of these marriages were to female couples and 44% were to male couples.
From March 2014 to October 2015, approximately 15,000 same-sex marriages were performed in England and Wales. Of these, 7,366 were new marriages, while 7,732 were conversions from civil partnerships. 55% of these marriages were between female couples and 45% were between male couples. During that same time period, the number of couples opting for civil partnerships fell significantly. In Cheshire for example, around 70 civil partnerships were recorded each year, but in 2015 that number was only 4.
462 same-sex marriages were performed in Scotland in the first five months after the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014 took effect. Same-sex marriages made up 12% of all marriages performed during that time.
In March 2016, statistics published by the National Records of Scotland showed that 1,671 same-sex marriages took place in Scotland in 2015. Of these, 935 were conversions from existing civil partnerships and 736 were new marriages.
The following table shows the number of same-sex marriages performed in England and Wales since March 2014 according to the Office for National Statistics. The overwhelming majority of same-sex marriages are celebrated through civil ceremonies. There were 23 religious same-sex marriages in 2014, 44 in 2015, 61 in 2016 and 43 in 2017. In 2017, the average age of marriage for same-sex couples was 40.1 years for men and 36.6 years for women. 94% of male couples and 92% of female couples cohabited before marriage, slightly higher than for opposite-sex couples (88%).
|Year||Same-sex marriages||Conversions from
|Opposite-sex marriages||Total marriages|
Most major religious organisations in the United Kingdom do not perform same-sex marriages in their places of worship. Some smaller Christian denominations such as the Dutch Church in London,Quakers and Unitarians do perform same-sex marriages. In addition, Liberal Judaism and the Movement for Reform Judaism perform same-sex marriages, and campaigned in favour of same-sex marriage legislation.
In May 2016, the Oasis Church Waterloo in London applied for a licence that would allow it to conduct same-sex marriages. Pastor Steve Chalke said "Oasis Church in Waterloo has reached the decision. It's taken us some time to reach it, that this is something we want to do".
In June 2016, the Scottish Episcopal Church became the first British province in the Anglican Communion to take steps to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in their churches. The General Synod voted in favour of a motion to begin discussion amongst the seven dioceses to remove the doctrinal clause which stated that marriage was between a man and a woman. The vote received support from five of seven bishops, 69% of the clergy and 80% of the laity. The General Synod formally approved the change to the doctrinal clause in June 2017, removing language stating that marriages could only be between a man and a woman and introducing a new conscience clause which allows clergy to opt out of performing same-sex weddings. On 20 July 2017, it was announced that a same-sex wedding was to be held in St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, later in the summer. On 1 August 2017, a same-sex marriage, which included the Eucharist as a nuptial mass, was held at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Edinburgh. The Scottish Episcopal Church is estimated to have 100,000 members, and offers same-sex marriage to other Anglicans, including members of churches in England and the United States.
In July 2016, the United Reformed Church voted overwhelmingly to allow its churches to perform same-sex marriages. The Church, with 60,000 members and 1,400 congregations, became the largest Christian organisation in the UK to offer same-sex marriages at that time.
In May 2018, the Church of Scotland voted to draft new laws that would allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages. The motion was passed by the Church's general assembly by a vote of 345 to 170. The legal questions committee now has two years before it has to report back, with a final vote on the motion expected in 2021.
Following the Consular Marriage and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014, "a consular marriage may take place in those countries or territories outside the United Kingdom which have notified the Secretary of State in writing that there is no objection to such marriages taking place in that country or territory and which have not subsequently revoked that notice". Same-sex consular marriages are possible in 26 countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, China (including Hong Kong),Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, the Seychelles and Vietnam.
240 consular same-sex marriages were performed between June 2014 and the end of December 2015. An additional 140 couples converted their civil partnerships into marriages. Consular marriages for same-sex couples were particularly popular in Australia prior to the country's legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017. 445 couples had married in British consulates across Australia by October 2017.
Of the fourteen overseas territories of Britain, same-sex marriage is allowed in nine: Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
five of his [Michael Fabricant's] Conservative colleagues voted both yes and no on the government's same-sex marriage legislation in February
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The Irish Congress of Trade Unions will join Amnesty International and gay rights group the Rainbow Project to hold a mass rally in support of equal marriage rights on 13 June, while a legal test case has also been lodged with Belfast's courts.