Equality and Human Rights Commission on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published guidance on the provisions of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and how they relate to equality and human rights law. The guidance is being published ahead of the first legally-recognised marriages of same-sex couples in England and Wales, which are expected to take place on 29 March. The accompanying key points explaining the basics of the Act, briefly, are as follows:

“The Act makes the marriage of same sex couples lawful in England and Wales. Religious organisations are free to choose whether to opt in to marrying same sex couples according to their rites and marriage procedures. Scotland and Northern Ireland both have different legislation covering marriage.

The guidance, produced by the Commission as part of its statutory remit under the Equality Act 2010, provides information about the Act targeted towards a range of groups, including employers, employees and service providers, public authorities, and religious organisations.

Under the new legislation:

  • Same sex couples will be able to get married in England and Wales and those marriages will be recognised in law (subject to meeting legal requirements).
  • Same sex married couples will be treated in the same way as opposite sex married couples in most circumstances.
  • Religious organisations can choose to opt in to conduct marriages for same sex couples. But no one can compel the organisations or their officials to participate in religious marriages of same sex couples if they do not wish to do so. Religious freedom is specifically protected under human rights law.
  • All civil marriage register offices are now designated and required by law to conduct marriages of same sex couples.
  • Commercial service providers cannot treat customers less favourably, for example by refusing to provide services on the basis that the customer is married to or intends to marry a person of the same sex. That would constitute unlawful discrimination.
  • Individuals are free to hold whatever belief they choose on marriage of same sex couples. The expression of those views can be limited, for example where it’s necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others. Employees will need to be mindful of relevant workplace and professional policies and rules; employers should apply rules and policies consistently with individuals’ civil liberties.
  • Schools must teach the facts about marriage during relevant lessons in an objective, sensitive and professional way, especially where the national curriculum and statutory guidance applies. Schools with a religious character can continue to teach about marriage according to their religious doctrines or ethos”.

Hard copies of any of the relevant documents are available from the Commission at: correspondence@equalityhumanrights.com.