Maria Miller, Women and Equalities Minister, has announced that the first same sex weddings in England and Wales will be able to take place from Saturday 29 March 2014, several months earlier than originally anticipated.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 received Royal Assent in July, but it was anticipated that the first same-sex marriages would not take place until summer 2014. Couples wishing to be among the first to marry will need to give formal notice of their intention by 13 March 2014.
Maria Miller said: ‘Marriage is one of our most important institutions, and from 29 March 2014 it will be open to everyone, irrespective of whether they fall in love with someone of the same sex or opposite sex.
‘This is just another step in the evolution of marriage and I know that many couples up and down the country will be hugely excited that they can now plan for their big day and demonstrate their love and commitment to each other by getting married.'
The government is also hopeful that couples who want to convert their civil partnerships into marriages and married people who want to change their legal gender while remaining married would be able to do so before the end of the 2014. Same sex couples who married abroad under foreign law are currently treated as civil partners in England and Wales, but they will instead be recognised as being married from March 2014.
Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of gay rights group Stonewall, welcomed the announcement: ‘We're particularly pleased that, following pressure from Stonewall, ministers have been persuaded to bring forward the commencement date from summer 2014 as they'd originally proposed.
‘It's particularly resonant for us that this announcement has been made on UN Human Rights Day.'
The legislation also contains provisions to protect religious organisations from conducting same sex marriages if they do not wish to do so.