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'When can we get married?' - Same sex couple demands civil partnership conversion timescales

Date:13 MAR 2014
Journals Manager + Online Editor

A couple taking legal advice regarding the implementation of same-sex marriage is calling on the Government to issue a clear and defined timeframe for when those in civil partnership can convert to marriage - as the current system doesn't allow it to happen.

The new same-sex marriage laws will allow applications from today (Thursday, 13 March 2014) with the first marriages to take place on 29 March this year. However the Government says those in civil partnerships cannot get married until systems are updated to allow for the conversion and says this will only be done by the end of the year.

One gay couple from Barnsley sought legal advice from specialist family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell in their bid to find out exactly when they can get married and put pressure on the Government to commit to a clearer timeframe.

Irwin Mitchell has been liaising with the Department For Culture, Media & Sport to speed up the process and is urging the Government commits to a specific timeframe by which the appropriate systems will be implemented to allow for the conversion from civil partnership to same-sex marriage.

The law firm has also been approached by several people suffering from the practicalities of not being able to marry such as people unable to get international visas to join their partners in other countries

Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, from Thurnscoe, Barnsley entered into civil partnership in 2008 as marriage was not an option available to same sex couples at the time. Like many same sex couples they were delighted when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed and same sex marriage became lawful and planned to become one of the first couples to convert to marriage when the legislation comes into force on 29 March 2014. 

However they were told that they would not be able to marry before the end of the year and even then there is no set date which they can begin planning for. They have asked lawyers to keep pressure on the Government to confirm the timetables for when s 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is to be brought in to allow couples wishing to convert their civil partnerships into marriage to do so.

According to Government figures, 55,000 civil partnerships have been formed in England and Wales and Irwin Mitchell says that those in this position that wish to marry are being treated unfairly.

Zoe Round, a specialist family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell solicitors in Sheffield, said:

'Michael and Paul have been waiting for this legislation to be agreed for years and now, at the final hurdle, they are finding that the process to convert civil partnerships to marriage is not yet implemented.

They should be registering their intent to marry today but instead all those couples in a civil partnership cannot convert to same-sex marriage because the Government hasn't implemented the appropriate systems.

The Government says that there are complications as they wish to ensure that the benefits and rights associated with marriage are backdated for those in civil partnerships. While Paul and Michael are pleased with this development, they want to make sure the Government stays true to its word and does indeed set a date for when they can marry.

Those in a civil partnership can't plan their wedding properly because they don't yet know when they will be allowed to marry. The Government wanted to introduce same-sex marriage as soon as possible but it's not available yet for many who wish to go through the process. If the Government does not implement the changes needed within a reasonable timeframe they could face legal action in the High Court.'

Paul, 34, who has two adopted disabled sons with partner Michael, 29, said:

'We should be registering our intent to marry today but instead we don't know when we can get married because we're already in a civil partnership.

At the moment we, and others in the same situation, cannot set a date for our marriage because there isn't the system in place to convert our civil partnership. We are being unfairly treated simply because we are in a long term relationship and have already committed to each other.

We sought legal advice because we wanted to ensure there was pressure on the Government to implement the proper systems as soon as possible. At the moment all we have to work with is that it will be by the end of the year but that doesn't help us and many other couples to plan for the future.' 

Be sure to read our essential updates designed to help family lawyers get up to speed with the reforms and other legislation by summarising the changes to the law and how they will affect day-to-day practice. The first update on Same Sex Marriage is available here.