Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Same sex marriage in the United Kingdom

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Same-sex marriage is legal in the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland. Marriage is a devolved issue in parts of the United Kingdom, and the status of same-sex marriage is different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


  • The legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014, and the first same-sex marriages took place on 29 March 2014.
  • Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland was passed by the Scottish Parliament in February 2014 and took effect on 16 December 2014. The first same-sex marriage ceremonies occurred on 16 December 2014 for same-sex couples previously in civil partnerships. The first same-sex marriage ceremonies for couples not in a civil partnership occurred on 31 December 2014.
  • Same-sex marriage is not legal in Northern Ireland. Prior to the March 2017 elections, First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster stated that the Democratic Unionist Party would continue to use a petition of concern to block any bill which would legalise same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are treated as civil partnerships.
  • Of the fourteen British Overseas Territories, same-sex marriage has been legal in Akrotiri and Dhekelia and the British Indian Ocean Territory (for UK military personnel) since 3 June 2014, the Pitcairn Islands since 14 May 2015, the British Antarctic Territory since 13 October 2016, Gibraltar since 15 December 2016, and on Ascension Island since 1 January 2017. Of the three Crown dependencies, same-sex marriage has been legal in the Isle of Man since 22 July 2016 and will soon be legal in Guernsey (awaits commencement).

    At common law a marriage between persons of the same sex was void ab initio. In 1680, Arabella Hunt married "James Howard"; in 1682 the marriage was annulled on the ground that Howard was in fact Amy Poulter, a 'perfect woman in all her parts', and two women could not validly marry. In 1866, in Hyde v. Hyde and Woodmansee (a case of polygamy), Lord Penzance's judgment began "Marriage as understood in Christendom is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others."

    In Talbot (otherwise Poyntz) v. Talbot in 1967, the prohibition was held to extend where one spouse was a post-operative transsexual, with Mr Justice Ormerod stating "Marriage is a relationship which depends on sex, not on gender". In 1971, the Nullity of Marriage Act was passed, explicitly banning marriages between same-sex couples in England and Wales. The parliamentary debates on the 1971 act included discussion on the issue of transsexualism but not homosexuality.

    The 1971 act was later replaced by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which also declared that a marriage is void if the parties are not respectively male and female. Prohibition of same-sex marriages was also included in the marriage legislation of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Marriage Act (Scotland) 1977 and the Marriage Order (Northern Ireland) 2003 both state there is a legal impediment to marriage if the parties are of the same sex.

    On 17 July 2013, Her Majesty the Queen granted royal assent to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. On 10 December 2013, Her Majesty's Government announced that the first same sex marriages could take place from 29 March 2014.

    Civil partnerships

    In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act was passed and came into effect in December 2005. It created civil partnerships, which gave same-sex couples who entered into them the same rights and responsibilities of marriage. These partnerships were called 'gay marriages' by some of the British media, however, the Government made clear that they were not marriages.

    Since Section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force, any couple registered in a civil partnership is granted the ability to convert that partnership into a marriage.

    Wilkinson v. Kitzinger and Others

    On 26 August 2003, Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, both British university professors, legally married in British Columbia, Canada. However, on their return their marriage was not recognised under British law. Under the subsequent Civil Partnership Act, it was instead converted into a civil partnership. The couple sued for recognition of their marriage, arguing that it was legal in the country in which it was executed and met the requirements for recognition of overseas marriages and should thus be treated in the same way as one between opposite-sex couples. They rejected the conversion of their marriage into a civil partnership believing it to be both practically and symbolically a lesser substitute. They were represented by the civil rights group Liberty. The group's legal director James Welch said it was a matter of fairness and equality for the couple's marriage to be recognised and that they "shouldn't have to settle for the second-best option of a civil partnership."

    The High Court announced its judgement on 31 July 2006, ruling that their union would not be granted marriage status and would continue to be recognised in England and Wales as a civil partnership. The President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, gave as his reason that "abiding single sex relationships are in no way inferior, nor does English Law suggest that they are by according them recognition under the name of civil partnership", and that marriage was an "age-old institution" which, he suggested, was by "longstanding definition and acceptance" a relationship between a man and a woman. He agreed with the couple's claim that they were being discriminated against by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, but considered that "To the extent that by reason of that distinction it discriminates against same-sex partners, such discrimination has a legitimate aim, is reasonable and proportionate, and falls within the margin of appreciation accorded to Convention States." The Attorney General, as Second Respondent, sought £25,000 in legal costs from the couple, which the High Court ordered them to pay.

    Wilkinson and Kitzinger said they were "deeply disappointed" with the judgement, not just for themselves, but for "lesbian and gay families across the nation." They said that "denying our marriage does nothing to protect heterosexual marriage, it simply upholds discrimination and inequality" and also said that the ruling insulted LGBT people and treats their relationships as inferior to heterosexual ones; not worthy of marriage but only of an "expressly different, and entirely separate institution." They said, however, that they believed the judgement "won't stand the test of time" and that they looked forward to the day when "there is full equality in marriage." They had originally announced their intention to appeal the decision but later abandoned it due to lack of funds.

    Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said that the establishment's aggressive opposition to same-sex marriage and the successful demand of £25,000 from the couple damaged the Government's "gay-friendly credentials". He also claimed that the demand in legal costs was designed to damage the couple financially so they would not be able to appeal. He said he was "angry but not downcast" about the ruling and that this was only a temporary setback in the "long struggle for marriage equality."

    Campaign groups

    Equal Marriage, a campaign for same-sex marriage in Scotland, was established by the Equality Network in 2008, with a focus on securing same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland. In England and Wales, the first major campaign for same-sex marriage was Equal Love established by Peter Tatchell in 2010. The first major campaign against same-sex marriage in Britain was Scotland for Marriage established in 2011, followed by the Coalition for Marriage in England and Wales in 2012. Subsequent campaigns for and against same-sex marriage have been established by a wide variety of organisations, including the Coalition for Equal Marriage and Out4Marriage, both established in England in 2012. In Northern Ireland, a campaign for full same-sex marriage was established by LGBT rights activist and political campaigner Gary Spedding in June 2012 with the specific goal of challenging social attitudes whilst lobbying the Northern Ireland Assembly to enact legislation to update the Marriage Order (Northern Ireland) 2003.

    Political parties

    Conservative: During the run-up to the 2010 general election the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said that a Conservative government would be happy to "consider the case" for ending the ban on same-sex marriage, although he was criticised for not making any specific promises. On 4 May 2010, the party published a "Contract for Equalities" which said it would 'consider' recognising civil partnerships as marriages if elected.

    Labour: At the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, a resolution committing the party to support LGBT rights passed for the first time due to block voting support from the National Union of Mineworkers. In April 2010, Labour Minister for Equality Harriet Harman when asked about same-sex marriage said the issue was a "developing area" and that the Government still had a long way to go with what it had done with gay rights. Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the Government did not allow same-sex marriage because it was "intimately bound up with questions of religious freedom". During the 2010 Labour leadership election campaign, each of the Labour candidates expressed their support for reform to lead to the recognition of same-sex marriage. Following Ed Miliband's victory it became Labour party policy, with the party welcoming HM Government's consultation and calling for legislation to be brought forth as soon as possible.

    Liberal Democrats: Leader Nick Clegg stated in 2009 that his party backs legalisation. On 4 July 2009, in an article for LabourList, Clegg wrote that "although civil partnerships have been a step forward, until same sex marriage is permitted it is impossible to claim gay and straight couples are treated equally." Following this, the party's LGBT rights group LGBT+ Liberal Democrats launched a petition "Marriage Without Borders" calling for all gender restrictions on marriage and civil partnerships to be lifted, and for same-sex relationships to be recognised across Europe and internationally. The petition was run at Manchester Pride and Reading Pride in 2009, and launched online in January 2010 following an interview with Clegg in Attitude magazine in which he reaffirmed his commitment to equal marriage. However, this did not make it into the party's manifesto. In an interview in July 2010 Lib Dem deputy party leader Simon Hughes confirmed that the coalition Government plans to open marriage to same-sex couples, saying, "It would be appropriate in Britain in 2010, 2011, for there to be the ability for civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally... The state ought to give equality. We’re halfway there. I think we ought to be able to get there in this parliament".

    Scottish Liberal Democrats: At their 2010 spring conference a motion was passed calling on the Scottish Government to allow same-sex couples to marry, describing the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage as a "discrimination that needs to end". In September 2010, the Liberal Democrats at their Autumn Federal Conference voted to make same-sex marriage a party policy at the Westminster level.

    Green Party: On 22 May 2009, the Green Party called for an end to the ban on civil marriages between same-sex couples in Britain and in other EU member states. Party leader Caroline Lucas said the party wants marriage for same-sex couples and that married same-sex couples who travel throughout Europe should be able to have their relationship recognised on the same basis as married heterosexual couples. Peter Tatchell, who was the party's candidate for Oxford East at the time, said there is a "confusing patchwork" of different partnership laws throughout Europe and that "for a majority of lesbian and gay couples their legal rights stop at their own borders". He said, the "best and most universally recognised system of partnership" is civil marriage and, "anything less is second class and discrimination".

    Religious bodies

    At their Yearly Meeting in 2009, the Quakers decided to recognise opposite-sex and same-sex marriages equally and perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, making them the first mainstream religious body in Britain to do so. Under the law at that time, registrars were not allowed to legally officiate at a marriage between same-sex couples but the Quakers stated that the law did not preclude them from "playing a central role in the celebration and recording of same-sex marriages" and asked the Government to change the law so that these marriages would be recognised. In a joint press release in 2012, the Quakers, Liberal Judaism, and Unitarians and Free Christians gave their endorsement to the same-sex marriage consultation.

    On 3 December 2014, the Dutch Church in London received confirmation that the Church is registered for the solemnisation of marriages of same sex couples.

    The largest Christian denominations have been wholly opposed to the legalisation of same-sex marriages. The leaders of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have been vocal in opposition, urging both parishioners and schools within its care to sign a petition against the government plans. The same was the case in Scotland The leaders of the Church of England are largely against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, being concerned that the legalisation will undermine the Church's position as the state religion of England. The Methodist Church of Great Britain, in responding to the Government's consultation on same-sex marriage, acknowledge that many Methodist churches had, over the last 20 years, affirmed and celebrated the participation of gays and lesbians in a union, but noted that the Methodist church could not use the word "marriage" with reference to same-sex unions.

    The Muslim Council of Britain launched a campaign against the legalisation of same-sex marriage called "Muslims Defending Marriage". The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue also came out in opposition of the plans, stating that same-sex marriage is "against Jewish law".

    Public opinion

    Opinion polls have shown general support for same-sex marriage among Britons.

    A 2004 poll by Gallup reported that 52% agreed that 'marriages between homosexuals' should be recognised while 45% said they should not. The poll also found that 65% supported allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions. A 2006 Eurobarometer survey reported that 46% of Britons agreed that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe, slightly higher than the EU average of 44%. A poll conducted in September 2008 by ICM Research for The Observer found that 55% of Britons believed that same-sex couples should be allowed to get married, with 45% against.

    An opinion poll conducted in June 2009 by Populus for The Times reported that 61% of the British public agreed with the statement 'Gay couples should have an equal right to get married, not just to have civil partnerships', while 33% disagreed. Support was highest among those aged between 25 and 34, where 78% agreed and 19% disagreed. It was lowest amongst those over 65 where 37% agreed and 52% disagreed. A majority of both men and women agreed, but support was higher among women (67%) than men (55%). In terms of voting intention, 73% of Liberal Democrats, 64% of Labour voters and 53% of Conservatives agreed that same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

    A poll conducted by Angus Reid in July 2010 showed that 78% of people supported either same-sex marriage or civil union for same-sex couples, with 41% opting for same-sex marriage and 37% opting for civil union. Support for no legal unions for same-sex couples decreased by 3% from August 2009.

    According to the 2010 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, 61% of Scotland's population supported same-sex marriage, 19% did not, and 18% neither agreed nor disagreed. In a similar poll in 2002, 42% of Scotland's population supported same-sex marriage. In 2006, 53% of Scots backed same-sex marriage.

    In July 2011, a representative survey conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion showed that 43% of Britons believed same-sex couples in Britain should be legally allowed to marry, 34% thought same-sex couples should only be allowed to form civil partnerships, and 15% would grant no legal recognition to same-sex couples.

    A poll published by YouGov in March 2012 showed that 43% of people supported same-sex marriage while 32% supported civil partnerships, and 16% were opposed to any legal recognition of same-sex partnerships. Support was particularly high amongst women, young people, people in Scotland and Liberal Democrats voters. Support was lower among the working class, older people, Conservative voters, and men in general. In the same poll, 62% expressed a belief that homosexual relationships had the same value as heterosexual ones, but 47% of people supported the right of the Church of England to defend traditional marriage and 37% disagreed.

    A June 2012 YouGov survey indicated increasing support for LGBT rights among the British people. The report found that 71% were in favour of same-sex marriage. Two YouGov polls in December 2012 found that 55% of the population were in favour of introducing same-sex marriage.

    Another poll in May 2013 confirmed public support for the bill, with 53% in favour of same-sex marriage. A second poll in May showed a similar level of support (54%), and also found that 58% of those who considered same-sex marriage an important election issue would be more likely to vote for a party that supported it. A May 2013 Ipsos poll found 55% of respondents in favour of same-sex marriage.

    A poll by BBC Radio in March 2014 found that 68% of respondents supported same-sex marriage and 26% opposed it. The research also found that younger people were more likely to support same-sex marriage, with 80% support from 18-34-year-olds, compared with 44% of over-65s. 75% of women were in favour, compared with 61% of men.

    The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 71% of Britons agreed that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, while 24% were against.

    England and Wales

    On 17 September 2011, at the Liberal Democrat party conference, Lynne Featherstone announced that the Government would launch a consultation in March 2012 on how to implement equal civil marriage for same-sex couples with the intention of any legislative changes being made by the next general election. The Prime Minister's Office let it be known that David Cameron had personally intervened in favour of legalising same-sex unions, and on 5 October 2011 the Conservative Party Conference applauded Cameron's support for same-sex marriage in his Leader's Speech.

    On 12 March 2012, HM Government launched its consultation on equal civil marriage in England and Wales. The Government's proposals were:

  • to enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage i.e., only civil ceremonies in a register office or approved premises (like a hotel);
  • to make no changes to religious marriages. This would continue only to be legally possible between a man and a woman;
  • to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert this into a marriage;
  • to continue to permit civil partnership registrations on religious premises as is possible, i.e., on a voluntary basis for faith groups and with no religious content; and
  • to allow individuals to be able legally to change their gender without having to end their marriage.
  • Support

    In 2010, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru endorsed same-sex marriage at their party conferences.

    The following groups and individuals expressed their support for same-sex marriage legislation in England and Wales:

  • The Green Party of England and Wales;
  • The Liberal Democrats;
  • The Labour Party;
  • Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales;
  • The Times;
  • The Guardian;
  • The Independent, which launched a campaign Equal Partners.
  • On 16 January 2013, the Coalition for Equal Marriage announced that it had found evidence for the support of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons.


    The following political parties expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage legislation in England and Wales:

  • The Democratic Unionist Party;
  • The British National Party opposes same-sex marriage and civil partnerships;
  • The UK Independence Party;
  • Other

    The following parties had no official position or a position of neutrality on either the issue or the legislation as it applies to England and Wales:

  • The Conservative Party: senior Conservatives, including David Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne and Theresa May supported the bill, however, the issue was contentious in the party. Just over half of Conservative MPs voted against the second reading but polling has shown that the majority of Conservative voters support the bill;
  • The Scottish National Party did not vote on English and Welsh matters, and therefore did not take part in the second reading vote, although the SNP-led Scottish Government introduced a bill to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland;
  • Sinn Féin are abstentionist and therefore do not take their seats or vote in the House of Commons. A Northern Ireland Assembly motion proposed by Sinn Féin and the Green Party of Northern Ireland to call for same-sex marriage was defeated by the Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party.
  • Results

    On 11 December 2012, HM Government released its response to the consultation. Of the 228,000 responses to the consultation, via the online form, email or correspondence, 53 percent agreed that all couples, regardless of their gender should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony, 46 percent disagreed, and one percent were unsure or did not answer the question. The Government also confirmed that it separately received nineteen petitions from faith groups and organisations such as the Coalition for Marriage, with over 500,000 signatures opposing same-sex marriage.


    On 11 December 2012, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State Maria Miller announced that the Government would bring forward same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales in early 2013. In response to the consultation results, the proposals were extended to allow religious organisations to opt into performing same-sex marriages if they wish, and a 'quadruple-lock' of additional measures to put the protection of religious freedoms "utterly beyond doubt". These are:

  • ensuring the legislation states explicitly that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises;
  • providing an 'opt-in' system for religious organisations who wish to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, which also allows individual ministers to continue to refuse to perform same-sex marriage even when their religious organisation opts in;
  • amending the Equality Act 2010 to reflect that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose; and
  • ensuring that the legislation will not affect the Canon law of the Church of England or the Church in Wales, i.e., unless Canon law and the same-sex marriage legislation are changed in future, both churches will be legally barred from performing same-sex marriages.
  • Her Majesty's Government also addressed consultation responses about the possibility that the European Court of Human Rights could force all churches to marry same-sex couples, stating:

    Both the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights put the protection of religious belief in this matter beyond doubt. We will draft the legislation to ensure that there is a negligible chance of a successful legal challenge in any domestic court, or the ECtHR that would force any religious organisation to conduct marriages for same-sex couples against their will. Any possible claims would be brought against the Government, rather than an organisation to ensure religious organisations would not have to use their resources to fight any legal challenges.

    On 24 January 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced to the Commons by Maria Miller, and a full debate occurred at the Second Reading on 5 February. The bill retains some distinctions from marriage between a man and a woman; e.g. in divorce proceedings, adultery (as with opposite sex marriage) can only involve sexual conduct between two persons of the opposite sex, while non-consummation will not be grounds for annulment of a same-sex marriage.

    On 5 February 2013, the bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175.

    The bill was examined in 13 sittings by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill Committee, a public bill committee established to scrutinise the bill line by line. The bill completed its committee stage on 12 March 2013 and had its report stage in the House of Commons on 20–21 May 2013. The third reading took place on 21 May, and was approved by 366 votes to 161, with the bill receiving its first reading in the House of Lords the same evening.

    The bill had its second reading unopposed in the Lords on 4 June, after a "wrecking amendment" proposed by Lord Dear was defeated by a vote of 390–148, thus allowing the bill to proceed to the committee stage.

    The bill passed its third reading in the House of Lords on 15 July 2013 and the Commons accepted all of the Lords' amendments on the following day, with royal assent granted on 17 July 2013.

    On 10 December 2013, Minister Maria Miller of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that same-sex marriage ceremonies would begin on 29 March 2014 in England and Wales. Couples wishing to be among the first to marry were required to give formal notice of their intention by 13 March 2014. As of 13 March 2014, couples who have entered into same-sex marriages overseas are recognised as married in England and Wales. The parts of the law that allow civil partnerships to be converted into marriages, and allow married people to change their legal gender while remaining married, came into force on 10 December 2014. Same-sex marriages in England and Wales began at midnight on 29 March 2014.


    As family law is not reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Parliament has legislative competence to make changes to the law on marriage.


    In January 2009, a petition was drawn up by Nick Henderson, director of LGBT rights group the LGBT Network, to be submitted to the Scottish Parliament. The petition called for a change to the law that disallows two people of the same sex from getting married, by amending the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977. The petition also called for allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies to be performed by faith groups, but only if the religious institution gives consent. As well as political support from the Leader of the Labour Party in the European Parliament, Glenis Willmott and MEP and veteran gay rights activist Michael Cashman, the petition drew the signatures and support of Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson and of eight church leaders, both Episcopalian and the Church of Scotland. The Very Reverend Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of the Scottish Episcopal St Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow, has often spoken of his willingness and desire to perform valid same-sex marriages in his church, and is a key supporter of the petition. It also attracted high-profile support from Labour MSP George Foulkes. The petition closed on 6 March, having gathered 1007 signatures.

    On 17 March 2009, the Petitions Committee unanimously agreed to question the Scottish Government on whether and when it planned to amend the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 to allow same-sex marriages. They also requested that a reason be provided if an amendment could not be considered.

    In March 2009, shortly before submission of the LGBT Network's petition to the Scottish Parliament, NUS Scotland established an Equal Marriage Campaign, launching a similar petition to the Scottish Parliament and calling for the amendment of legislation to allow same-sex marriage and mixed-sex civil partnerships in Scotland, although the petition itself did not distinguish between civil and religious marriage. This campaign attracted the support of a number of MSPs and MEPs, as well as activist organisations and individuals. The petition closed on 1 September 2009, having gathered 1,317 signatures. On 8 September, the Petitions Committee convened after a summer recess, and agreed to contact the Government seeking responses to specific points raised in both petitions and the discussion.

    On 1 December 2009, the Petitions Committee decided to seek a meeting between a government minister and the petitioners, as well as enquire as to whether the Government might consider setting up an advisory committee of interested parties. The Government rejected the petition, as legalising same-sex marriage in Scotland only would require changes in non-devolved matters such as the areas of immigration, pensions and inheritance law all of which would have to be done at national level. The head of the Government's equality unit Hilary Third said that although from an equalities point of view "equal marriage is where we want to be" it would be a "difficult situation" if same-sex marriage was legal in Scotland but not England. In 2011, Her Majesty's Government announced a consultation on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales would be held, and it began in March 2012.


    From September – December 2011, the Scottish Government held a consultation on the issue after the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found 60% of Scots to be in favour of legalising same-sex marriages in Scotland. The consultation offered consideration on both removing religious prohibitions for civil partnerships and also legalising same-sex marriage within that country. In the foreword to the consultation document, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stated

    "The Scottish Government is choosing to make its initial views clear at the outset of this consultation. We tend towards the view that religious ceremonies for civil partnerships should no longer be prohibited and that same-sex marriage should be introduced so that same-sex couples have the option of getting married if that is how they wish to demonstrate their commitment to each other. We also believe that no religious body or its celebrants should be required to carry out same-sex marriages or civil partnership ceremonies."

    Unlike the English and Welsh Consultation, the one for Scotland dealt with the issue of same-sex marriage in a religious context. On 10 December 2011, The Scotsman newspaper reported that some 50,000 responses had been received from within Scotland. In reality, when counting was finished, the total stood at 77,508 The Government presented the results and analysis of the consultation in July 2012. Respondents who opposed the introduction of same-sex marriage were in the majority, with 67%. However, 14,869 (19%) of responses came from outside Scotland and 26,383 (34%) were submitted by a pre-printed postcard rather than via the proper consultation form.


    On 25 July 2012, the Scottish Government announced it would bring forward legislation to legalise both civil and religious same-sex marriage in Scotland. The Government reiterated its intention to ensure that no religious group or individual member of the clergy would be forced to conduct such ceremonies; it also stated its intention to work with Westminster to make necessary changes to the Equality Act to ensure that this would be guaranteed.

    On 27 June 2013, the Scottish Government introduced the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament. LGBT rights campaigners, celebrating outside the UK parliament on 15 July 2013 for the clearance of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords, declared that they would continue the campaign to extend same-sex marriage rights to both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    A majority of members of the Scottish Parliament had declared their support for same-sex marriage, including the then leader of each party in Parliament: Alex Salmond (SNP; then First Minister of Scotland), Johann Lamont (Labour), Ruth Davidson (Conservative), Willie Rennie (Liberal Democrats) and Patrick Harvie (Green).

    The bill was fast-tracked through the Scottish Parliament with the aim of achieving royal assent for the legislation by March 2014. The Equal Opportunities Committee considered the bill from 5 September to 7 November, with a report published on 8 November. On 20 November, the bill passed its first stage with a 98 to 15 vote and 5 abstentions. Of the 98 MSPs that voted "yes" on the bill, 52 were members of the Scottish National Party, 31 were members of the Labour Party, 7 were members of the Conservative Party, 4 were members of the Liberal Democrats Party, 2 were members of the Green Party, and 2 were Independents. Of the 15 MSPs that voted "no" on the bill, 6 were members of the Scottish National Party, 8 were members of the Conservative Party, and 1 was a member of the Labour Party. Of the 5 MSPs that abstained, 2 were members of the Scottish National Party, and 3 were members of the Labour Party.

    The bill returned to the Equal Opportunities Committee for its second stage. The Committee considered the bill on 19 December 2013, rejecting several amendments proposed by opponents of the legislation. The Committee continued the second stage on 16 January 2014. The final stage debate and vote was held on 4 February 2014. The bill was approved with 105 MSPs in favour and 18 opposed, with no abstentions. The bill received royal assent as the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 on 12 March 2014 and the first same-sex marriages occurred on 31 December 2014.

    Northern Ireland

    Same-sex marriage continues to be unrecognised in Northern Ireland, following several votes against it and one vote in favour of it by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Same-sex marriages are recognised as civil partnerships. There is currently a legal challenge to Northern Ireland's ban on same-sex marriage pending in the judiciary.

    Proposed legislation

    Legislation to allow for the recognition of same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland has been debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly five times since 2012. On four of those occasions, only a minority of assembly members voted in favour of same-sex marriage, though the most recent vote on the issue in November 2015 saw a majority of MLA's vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

    On 27 April 2015, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted again on the recognition of same-sex marriage. The motion for recognition was introduced by Sinn Féin and was defeated by a majority of 49 votes to 47; all DUP members in the Assembly voted against it, while all Sinn Féin, Green Party and NI21 members voted for it.

    On 2 November 2015, 105 MLA's voted on a motion to recognise same-sex marriage, with 53 MLA's voting in favour and 51 voting against, the first time same-sex marriage had received majority support in the Assembly. However the Democratic Unionist Party tabled a petition of concern, preventing the motion from having any legal effect.

    Sinn Féin said that legislation to legalise same-sex marriage would be a priority for the party in the Assembly elected in May 2016. On 23 June 2016, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir announced he had requested that officials in the Executive begin drafting legislation to allow same-sex marriage, stating that MLAs would much rather vote on the issue than “be forced to legislate [following] an adverse judgment” in the courts. In October 2016, First Minister Arlene Foster reaffirmed the DUP's opposition to same-sex marriage, saying the party would continue to issue a petition of concern blocking same-sex marriage in the Assembly over the next five years. However, the DUP won fewer than 30 seats at the March 2017 elections, meaning it lost the right to individually block a bill using a petition of concern.

    Citing the Legislature's constant refusal to approve a marriage bill and the law that recognises marriages from other parts of the United Kingdom as civil partnerships, local LGBT rights groups have announced that they will turn to the courts to argue that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

    In January 2015, a couple who married in England but reside in Northern Ireland filed a lawsuit to have their marriage recognised in the region.

    Two legal challenges to Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage ban were heard in the High Court in November and December 2015. Two couples, Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kanem brought the case claiming that Northern Ireland's prohibition on same-sex marriage breached their human rights. The case was heard simultaneously with the case brought in January 2015 in which two men who wed in England sought to have their marriage recognised in Northern Ireland. Judgement in the cases is expected "after Christmas".

    Public opinion

    A September 2014 Lucid Talk Belfast Telegraph poll showed that 40.1% of the population support same-sex marriage, while 39.4% oppose and 20.5% either have or stated no opinion. Of those that gave an opinion 50.5% supported and 49.5% opposed same-sex marriage. A poll in May 2015 found that 68% of the population supported same-sex marriage, with support rising to 75% in Belfast. A "mass rally", organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Amnesty International, and the Rainbow Project took place in Belfast on 13 June 2015, with a 20,000 person turnout. A June 2016 poll gave support for same-sex marriage at 70%, while those opposing it at 22%.

    Religious groups

    The main churches in Northern Ireland define marriage as between one man and one woman. The majority of marriages in Northern Ireland are also conducted by religious denominations e.g. 5,856 out of 8,550 marriage ceremonies in 2014 (68%).

    Under the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003, an officiant shall not solemnise a religious marriage "except in accordance with a form of ceremony which is recognised by the religious body of which he is a member" and which "includes and is in no way inconsistent with" an appropriate declaration i.e. that they accept each other as husband and wife in the presence of each other, the officiant, and two witnesses. A religious body is defined in legislation as "an organised group of people meeting regularly for common religious worship."

    Within the Catholic Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring."

    The Presbyterian Church in Ireland subscribes to the Westminster Confession of Faith which affirms that marriage "is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time."

    The Church of Ireland affirms in its canon law that "according to our Lord’s teaching that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and life-long, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side." The General Synod of the Church of Ireland, in 2012, reaffirmed this teaching in a motion on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. The motion added that the church "recognises for itself and of itself, no other understanding of marriage" and acknowledged that members of the church "have at times hurt and wounded people by words and actions, in relation to human sexuality." The church affirmed a "continuing commitment to love our neighbour, and opposition to all unbiblical and uncharitable actions and attitudes in respect of human sexuality from whatever perspective, including bigotry, hurtful words or actions, and demeaning or damaging language."

    The Methodist Church in Ireland states that marriage is "a relationship, intended as permanent, between one man and one woman" in its Practical Expressions of Methodist Belief document. The church opposes "all debased forms of sexuality and sexual practice, whether heterosexual or homosexual" but asks for "understanding and tolerance for those whose sexual orientation is towards those of their own gender" and encourages the wider church "to give a greater lead in the education of society, including Christians, regarding this issue, so that ignorance, prejudice and fear may disappear."

    The Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland affirms "the creation ordinance of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman" in its Doctrinal Statement.

    The Congregational Union of Ireland affirms the Savoy Declaration, which is similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith in stating that "marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband at the same time."

    The Salvation Army – as stated in its Marriage Positional Statement – believes that marriage is "an exclusive and lifelong relationship between one man and one woman which is characterised by mutual submission, respect, self-giving love, faithfulness and openness to each other." It adds that human imperfection and sinfulness "may make it difficult to reach the goal of lifelong faithfulness" and that the Christian ideal of marriage is compromised by breakdown, separation and divorce, cohabitation, forced marriage, same-sex partnerships and polygamy. However, the Salvation Army "does not condemn or abandon people who fall short of the ideal" but rather, in God’s name, it seeks to offer support, reconciliation, counsel, grace and forgiveness.

    The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and its definition of marriage. However, the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland does not subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    Marriage statistics

    1,409 same-sex marriages were formed between same-sex couples between 29 March and 30 June 2014. 56% of these marriages were to female couples (796 marriages) while 44% were to male couples (613 marriages).

    From March 2014 to October 2015, approximately 15,000 same-sex couples wed in England and Wales. Of these, 7,366 were new marriages while 7,732 accounted for conversions from civil partnerships. 55% of these marriages were between female couples and 45% were between male couples. During that same time period, the number of couples opting for civil partnerships fell significantly. In Cheshire, for example, around 70 civil partnerships were recorded each year. In 2015, however, that number was only 4.

    462 same-sex marriages were celebrated in Scotland in the first five months after the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014 came into force. Same-sex marriages made up around 12% of all marriages performed during that time. Similarly to England and Wales, the number of civil partnerships decreased significantly.

    In March 2016, statistics published by the National Records of Scotland revealed that 1,671 same-sex marriages took place in Scotland in 2015. Of these, 935 were conversions from existing civil partnerships and 736 were new marriages.

    Religious performance

    Most major religious organisations in the United Kingdom do not perform same-sex marriage in their places of worship. Some smaller Christian denominations such as the Dutch Church in London, Quakers and Unitarians do perform same-sex marriages.

    In addition, Liberal Judaism and the Movement for Reform Judaism perform same-sex marriages, and campaigned in favour of same-sex marriage legislation.

    In June 2016, the Scottish Episcopal Church became the first Anglican Church in the United Kingdom to take steps to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in their churches. The General Synod voted in favour of a motion to begin discussion amongst the seven dioceses to remove the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman. The vote received support from five of seven bishops, 69% of the clergy and 80% of the laity.

    In July 2016, the United Reformed Church voted overwhelmingly to allow its churches to perform same-sex marriages. The Church, with 60,000 members and 1,400 congregations, became the largest Christian organisation in the UK to offer same-sex marriages.

    Consular marriage

    Following the Consular Marriage and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014, "a consular marriage may take place in those countries or territories outside the United Kingdom which have notified the Secretary of State in writing that there is no objection to such marriages taking place in that country or territory and which have not subsequently revoked that notice". Currently same-sex consular marriages are possible in 26 countries: Australia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, the Seychelles and Vietnam.

    Crown dependencies and overseas territories

    The status of marriage differs in the three Crown dependencies of Britain and the fourteen Overseas Territories.

    Crown dependencies

  • Isle of Man – Same-sex marriage is legal. Legislation to allow same-sex marriage was approved by the House of Keys on 8 March 2016 and approved by the Legislative Council on 26 April 2016. The legislation was granted royal assent and went into effect on 22 July 2016.
  • Guernsey – Same-sex marriage will soon be legal. The States of Guernsey approved a motion to legalise same-sex marriage in December 2015. The Same-Sex Marriage (Guernsey) Law, 2016 was approved by the States in September 2016 by a vote of 33–5, and gained royal assent on 14 December 2016. It awaits registration in the record of the island and commencement. The first marriages are expected to take place in mid-2017. The law, however, does not currently extend to Guernsey's own dependencies, Alderney and Sark. Alderney recognizes foreign marriages for inheritance purposes, and on 21 February 2017, the States of Alderney's Policy and Finance Committee backed a proposal to draft a bill to legalise same-sex marriage on the island.
  • Jersey – Same-sex marriage is not legal. A motion to introduce same-sex marriage was approved by island's Government in September 2015 and draft legislation to that effect was expected to be voted on by January 2017.
  • Overseas territories

    Of the fourteen overseas territories of Britain, five – Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Gibraltar and the Pitcairn Islands – have legalised same-sex marriage, as has Ascension Island, which is a part of the territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

    Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia for UK military personnel since 3 June 2014. The first same-sex marriage was conducted in Dhekelia on 10 September 2016. Civil partnership have also been allowed for military personnel since 7 December 2005.

    In the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is populated exclusively by US and UK military personnel and associated contractors, same-sex marriage has been legal since 3 June 2014.

    In the Pitcairn Islands, an ordinance to legalise same-sex marriage was unanimously approved by the territory's Legislature, and signed by Governor Jonathan Sinclair on 5 May 2015. It was published on 13 May 2015 and took effect the next day.

    The British Antarctic Territory has allowed same-sex marriages since 13 October 2016.

    On 26 October 2016, the Civil Marriage Amendment Bill 2016 was passed in the Gibraltar Parliament with unanimous support from all 15 members present during the vote. It received royal assent on 1 November and took effect on 15 December 2016.

    Same-sex marriage is also legal on Ascension Island, part of the Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha territory. An ordinance to this effect was unanimously approved by all 5 present members of the Ascension Island Council on 31 May 2016. It was signed by the Governor and published in the official gazette on 20 June. On 23 December 2016, the Governor issued an order to commence the law on 1 January 2017.

    On 23 February 2017, after consultation with the Governor of Saint Helena, the Tristan da Cunha Island Council agreed that a law to legalise same-sex marriage will go forward formally for adoption. It now awaits royal assent before becoming law.

    On 30 March 2017, the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands has approved the Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2017 by a vote of 7 to 1. It now awaits royal assent before becoming law.

    Saint Helena (another part of the Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha territory) is also considering the legalisation of same-sex marriage. On 12 December 2016 after a lengthy debate, the Saint Helena Legislative Council passed an amendment removing the provisions allowing same-sex marriage from the bill. The entire bill was then withdrawn. In January 2017, same-sex couple applied to get married in Saint Helena. The registrar was in the process of obtaining legal advice as to how to proceed (the existing 1851 marriage ordinance is unclear on same-sex marriage) when two members of the public filed caveats (objections) to the marriage notice. Subsequently, the registrar referred the issue to the Chief Justice for a decision. A preliminary hearing took place in the Supreme Court on 23 February 2017.


    Same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom Wikipedia

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