On Monday 10 November 2014, the Minister for Skills and Equalities (Nick Boles) moved that the Committee consider the draft Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014 and the draft Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law (No. 2) Order 2014 .
The Minister commenced by declaring his interest, and Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab), echoed the problems associated with leaving the approval of this secondary legislation until so close to the deadline on which conversions can be made, [10 December]. The progress of this delegated legislation has been followed in earlier posts, but having reached this stage it is valuable to reiterate the Minister’s description of their provisions:
“The draft Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014 set out the procedure for couples in England and Wales who wish to convert their civil partnership into a marriage . . . If the couple want, the procedure may be completed in one visit to the superintendent registrar: the couple provide evidence of their identity and sign a declaration that they are in a civil partnership with each other and wish to convert it into a marriage. The superintendent registrar also signs, and that is all that is needed.
Alternatively . . . the couple may go to the superintendent registrar with the required evidence and complete the conversion into marriage by signing the declaration in the place where a ceremony is to be held. That may include religious premises, where the consents required under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 have been obtained and where a ceremony under section 46 of the Marriage Act 1949 is to follow the conversion”.
“If the couple cannot travel to a register office, because one of them is housebound, detained or seriously ill and not expected to recover, the couple may convert their civil partnership where they are and may follow that with a ceremony, including a religious one. The draft regulations will also allow the conversion into marriage at certain consulates and armed forces bases overseas. The authorities in the relevant host country must have consented to the arrangement.
He continued by stating that the draft Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2014 does four things.
- it makes necessary consequential amendments to primary legislation. Most significantly, it amends section 46 of the Marriage Act 1949. The 2013 Act amended section 46 of the 1949 Act to include ceremonies following the conversion of a civil partnership into a marriage and applied the religious protections to such ceremonies. The draft order makes it clear that such a ceremony may be held following a housebound, detained or deathbed conversion, or armed forces conversions where they take place overseas, and that the religious protections apply appropriately by naming the appropriate Jewish and Quaker governing authorities and by ensuring that it is clear that ceremonies of other religions are covered.
- the draft order makes amendments required as a consequence of the 2013 Act to enable couples who wish to do so to stay married where one or both of them change legal gender. In particular, when a person changes gender, the amendments ensure that the spouse will not lose any pension expectations that they might otherwise have had. The order also makes other miscellaneous amendments, including specific provision in relation to particular pension schemes.
- the draft order revokes article 5 of the earlier Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) Order 2014, under which marriages of same-sex couples solemnised in England and Wales are treated as civil partnerships in Scotland. From 16 December, when marriage of same-sex couples will become possible in Scotland, they can be recognised as marriages under Scottish law too. This order also makes associated transitional and saving arrangements and further amendments identified in consequence of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.”
With regard to the draft Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law (No. 2) Order 2014, the Minister stated that:
“this revokes and re-enacts, with some additional provisions, an order made earlier this year. It provides for consular marriages and the issuing of certificates of no impediment by consular officers where a marriage is to take place under foreign law; enables the Registrar General for England and Wales to pass on to the Registrar General for Scotland relevant consular marriage certificates; allows the Registrars General to provide certified copies of certificates; and allows superintendent registrars to issue certificates of no impediment.
The instruments are necessary to allow couples in civil partnerships to convert their relationship into marriage, and to enable couples where one or both changes legal gender to remain married, which is of very great significance to those couples”.
With regard to guidance on the legislation:
“[f]ull guidance will be provided to registrars at all levels about what they should want to be thinking about when it comes to the ceremonies people might wish for. It is interesting that some people want the registrar to sign the declaration and not to say a word, while others want them to conduct a full-blown ceremony with dancers, choirs and the like. Registrars are, therefore, expected to be flexible and not to impose any thinking, but to offer possibilities. Indeed, that is what registrars throughout the country already do, and we will make it clear that that is what we will expect them to do.
On 22 October, a general registrar circular and question pamphlet about the new process was circulated. Officials have attended several regional group meetings for registration officers and there are two training days planned; the first is tomorrow in the north and the second is on 2 December in the south. The revised handbook for registration officers is due to be launched next week and there is a dedicated page on the registrars’ website providing updated information. Many local authorities have started sharing information on their websites. There is a great deal of activity and we will be encouraging everybody involved in the ceremonies and conversions to be as flexible and forthcoming as possible to couples who want to celebrate a very happy moment.”
Although the legislation was approved without a vote, Mrs Sharon Hodgson stated that the Opposition was happy to lend the Minister its support, should this be necessary.
Question put and agreed to.
Suggested citation: David Pocklington: ‘Civil partnership conversion approved’ (Law & Religion UK 11 November 2014) (available at http://wp.me/p2e0q6-445)