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Family Law

Same Sex Marriage Bill receives Royal Assent

The Same Sex Marriage Bill – which has been working its way through Parliament for the last year – received Royal Assent last Wednesday (17 July 2013), officially making it law.

The new measure became law on 17 July 2013, allowing same sex couples to get married for the first time. There was cross-party support for the Bill, with Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs backing the proposal. Under the terms of the Bill, religious organisations in England and Wales are to be given the option to “opt in” to offering weddings to same-sex couples. However, the Church of England and the Church in Wales are banned from opting in.

The legislation – described by the Telegraph as “one of the most radical pieces of social legislation of [Queen Elizabeth’s] reign” has been marred by controversy during its passage through Parliament, with a number of groups protesting against the change that it marks to what they see as the understanding of marriage as solely between a ┬áman and a woman. For example, the Evangelical Alliance criticised the redefinition of marriage as defined by “consumer demands and political expediency”. However, many groups responded positively to the news, with the Roman Catholic Church describing it as a “watershed” and that it marked a “profound social change”. There is expected to be a swathe of new work for family law solicitors after the passing of the Bill.

Maria Miller, the Equalities Minister, stated that marriage would remain the “bedrock” of society and that the passing of the Bill “demonstrates the importance we attach to be able to live freely. It says so much about the society that we are and the society that we want to live in.”

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth – an MP who had voted against the legislation – reacted negatively to the passing of the Bill, stating that it was: “astonishing that a bill for which there is absolutely no mandate, against which a majority of Conservatives voted, has been bulldozed through both Houses”. He also added “I think the government should think very carefully in future if they want the support of these benches. Offending large swathes of the Conservative Party is not a good way of going about it.”

Paul Parker, recording clerk for the Quakers, commented on the news: “It’s wonderful to see same-sex marriage achieve legal recognition. Quakers see the light of God in everyone so we respect the inherent worth of each individual and each loving relationship.”

Media outlets report that the first same sex wedding could take place as early as summer 2014.

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