Same-Sex Marriage Registration Now Open
In the penultimate step to marriage equality and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, same-sex couples were able to start registering their notice of intention to marry from Thursday 13 March in England and Wales.
The announcement was posted on the government’s official website on Wednesday, saying that those couples who wished to be married on the 29 March and be among the first same-sex couples to legally marry, would need to contact their local registry office and make an appointment.
Just the same as opposite-sex couples intending to marry, same sex couples need to give notice at least 15 days ahead of when they want to wed, but need to have lived in England or Wales for seven consecutive days. Couples may also need to check with the rules of the area regarding religious ceremonies though, as there is an “opt-in” system for religious organisations to perform same sex wedding ceremonies.
Civil partnerships, which became legal in 2004 and essentially provide same-sex couples with the same rights as an opposite sex married couple, will be able to be converted into marriage – though, it is not compulsory – before the end of the year. This also applies to married people who wish to change their legal gender but still remain married.
But March 13 had another significance for same-sex couples, particularly those already married in overseas countries. From Thursday, at the stroke of midnight, these couples’ marriages would finally be officially recognised in England and Wales.
One couple to be affected by the overseas-marriage recognition is 57-year-old Celia Kitzinger and her wife, Sue Wilkinson, 60, both university academics. In the eyes of Vancouver, Canada, where Sue was based and the couples wed in 2003, they have been married for 11 years. However, when they moved back to the UK, they lost a court case in which the High Judge informed them that their marriage was not recognised in this country, but they could opt for a civil partnership if they do chose.
“Having had a marriage and experienced what it felt like made us determined it had to be marriage or not marriage,” Sue explained. The couple took off their wedding rings in protest of the decision, vowing to put them back on should the decision ever be overturned.
Celia said that she knew it would happen one day, but was worried that it wouldn’t be in their lifetimes. “The fact that it has happened within eight years [of the Judge’s ruling] is stunning,” she added.
The couple took themselves off to a romantic countryside hideaway, and waited for the church bells of a local church to ring the midnight peal. “And when the church clock went ‘bong’,” said Sue, “we put on our rings and opened a bottle of champagne. It was magical. Special. Lovely.”
March 2014 is proving to be a victory for people all over the country. “The last piece of discriminatory legislation has been overturned,” said Sue. “And this is a great day.”