purpose of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is to allow for the
marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, including allowing gender
change for married people and civil partners, and relates to marriage of armed
forces personnel overseas. While the Act states that same sex marriage is
lawful (Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
2013, Section 1)), nobody,
including members of the clergy (clerk in Holy
Orders of the Church of England, or the Church of Wales), is under any
compulsion to solemnise or consent, attend or be a part of same-sex
marriages. Furthermore, section two of
the Act provides
protections for individuals and religious organisations who choose not to
“opt in” to solemnise same-sex marriages from any liability including
through amending the Equality Act 2010.
three of the Act amends the 1949 Marriage Act, by renewing marriages that can
be solemnised, such as: religious marriages for opposite-sex couples only in
registered buildings; civil marriages for all couples in a register office; civil
marriages for all couples in approved premises e.g. a hotel; religious
marriages for opposite-sex couples by the Quakers or the Jewish religion; religious
marriages for opposite-sex couples, one of whom is house-bound or detained; civil
marriages for all couples, one of whom is house-bound or detained; marriages for opposite sex couples
in a church or chapel of the Church of England or the Church in Wales (Marriage
(Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, section 3).
sections throughout the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 adds further
definitions of marriage through a wider variety of types of same-sex marriages.
In 2004, civil partnership became lawful in the United
Kingdom, which permitted same-sex couples and couples of whom one spouse had
changed gender to live in legally-recognised intimate partnerships, which is
similar to marriage, however without authorizing them to marry, or describe themselves
as married. It also required opposite-sex couples to terminate their marriage
if one (or both) spouses had undergone gender change surgery, or in cases where
couple were not recognised in law as having male and female gender.
Following a number of announcements after the 2010
General Election, in September 2011 the Minister for Equalities announced that
the Government would be launching a consultation in March 2011 that would
strive to find a way to replace civil partnerships for same-sex couples with
civil marriages in England and Wales. The result of the consultation, which
ended in June 2012, was that the Minister for Women and Equalities announced
that legislation would be introduced within the lifespan of the current
government that would allow for same-sex civil marriage. The leaders of the
three main political parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats, gave
their members a free vote in Parliament on the legislation, meaning they would
not be whipped to vote a specific way.
preceding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was controversial for many
reasons, and had many key actors which influenced the arguments surrounding the
Act. Stonewall, which at the time had over 20,000
supporters and has been at the head of the United Kingdom’s gay-rights movement
for more than 20 years, was subject to criticism when the organisation had not
taken an official stance on supporting same-sex marriage. The chief
executive of the charity, Ben Summerskill, elevated concern when he spoke at a
fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference that a policy that would
allow for all couples to have the right to a civil partnership or a marriage irrespective
of gender could cost the public purse up to £5bn over ten years because of the
tax implications of opening up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. Michael
Cashman, a Labour MEP who is also a co-founder of Stonewall, stated that the
organisation’s stillness on the matter was vulnerable of being construed as hostility
towards the notion of marriage equality, and furthermore, the cost consequences
for the taxpayer of such a change ought not to be the concern of the charity.
Founded in February 2012, the Coalition for Marriage (a Christian campaign group) was the main campaign in the United
Kingdom that is opposed to same-sex marriage. The main objective of the
Coalition for Marriage was to rally against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
On 28 June 2013, the Daily Mail mocked government plans for same-sex marriage, which
they referred to as “gobbledegook” and stated that the UK government
would “overrule the dictionary and scrap the centuries-old definitions of
male and female spouses” .
The Act received many forms of criticism from a multitude
of angles, including the media, public opinion and politicians, meaning that it
would prove difficult to pass and get people to abide to the new laws put in
place. Decisions related to how the Act would be ‘sold’ to the public would
have to reassure the nation that ‘traditional’ family values and the sanctity
of marriage would not be tainted or in any way imposed on. These decisions
could be an attempt control portrayal of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of
2013, for example ensuring that non-partisan news outlets such as the BBC
maintain a neutral depiction of the Act.
Trouble Passing the Bill?
A number of
Conservative Party MPs had tried to disrupt the same-sex marriage cause through
attempting to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, which led the
Cameron government to call to Ed Miliband for support. Miliband was warned by
Tory chief whip Sir George Young that the government was in danger of losing
the vote, provoked a change of heart by Miliband, who had been preparing to
abstain on the amendment. The amendment was defeated by 375 to 70 votes. Due to
this, the marriage (same-sex couples) bill endured a safer journey through
parliament. Furthermore, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary,
and his long standing ally Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, joined
more than 100 Tory MPs to vote against Cameron in favour of an amendment that
would allow registrars to opt out of conducting same sex marriage ceremonies. While
this amendment was unsuccessful, it did highlight high running tensions in the
Tory party which would prove concerning for the same-sex marriage bill.
(Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is a law instructing that couples of the same sex
are lawfully permitted to a civil marriage. The purpose of the act is to
promote a fairer, more equal society, whereby homosexual marriages are deemed
just as valid and equal to heterosexual marriages. Furthermore, the Act strives
to bring a wider and more inclusive definition to marriage.
(Same Sex Couples) Act is subject to a multitude of criticisms and oppositions,
for example the media and the campaigning of anti-gay rights organisations.
These entities have the power to persuade the public through misrepresentation
and fear mongering tactics, which in turn, can impact the way in which MPs
voted for the bill. Even pro-LGBT charities, such as Stonewall, did not partake
in any official stance on the bill, in fear of directing a group of people on
what to support, which proves that any change to law which may be perceived as
some as a threat to their beliefs and values, is going to be faced with some hostile
it is arguable that the bill had no mandate and belonged to any one specific
party, it is reasonable to suggest that the bill caused tension and divide
throughout some parties, such as the Conservative party, where 128 MPs voted
against the bill and 117 voted in favour of the bill. This is in comparison to
the Labour party, whereby only 4 MPs voted against.