Marriage Equality Enacted Today for England and Wales

On Monday, July 15, 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed its third reading in the British House of Lords and was referred back to the House of Commons where, surprisingly, there was no interest in doing other than approving the amendments made by the House of Lords.  Thus, the usual “ping-pong” game where legislation goes back and forth between the two Houses until a mutually acceptable version emerges did not occur, and the House of Commons promptly approved the amended bill yesterday, Tuesday, July 16, sending it to Queen Elizabeth II for the final formality of Royal Assent. 
The Queen signed the bill today, July 17, and thus it became The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.  This all happened so fast that the Parliament’s website did not have as of today a final, consolidated version of the bill available, merely the last version approved by the Commons and the Amendments document approved by the House of Lords and concurred in by the House of Commons.
The process after Royal Assent involves the government taking the steps necessary to implement the legislation, and news reports from the U.K. indicate that the first weddings would be taking place in the summer of 2014.
The Act does not itself spell out a timetable for complete implementation. It is a complex piece of legislation, due to the interaction with other statutes and the detailed provisions concerning religious organizations and the effect on existing civil partnerships of same-sex couples. 
The Act includes a measure introduced during the Parliamentary debates, Section 15, under which the government is supposed to set in motion a process to evaluate the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which had provided a legal status equivalent to marriage for same sex couples, and to determine its ultimate fate, as some members of Parliament had argued that same-sex couples should continue to have a choice to be in civil partnerships rather than marriages, and that civil partnership should be made available to different-sex couples.  Section 15 goes into immediate effect, so the government has a mandate to get right to work on it. 
The Secretary of State is now charged with taking the steps necessary for implementation, and there will be a series of announcements as appropriate forms and procedure are made ready, with expectations that the process will be done by about July 1, 2014.  By comparison, my London correspondent for Lesbian/Gay Law Notes, Robert Wintemute of the Faculty of Law at King’s College, noted to me that the Civil Partnership Act was passed in November 2004 but was not finally implemented until December 2005.

The Act affects England and Wales.  A separate bill has been proposed by the government in Scotland which, although still part of Great Britain, has a large degree of legislative autonomy as a result of changes implemented late in the last century.  That bill is expected to pass later in 2013, but it is controversial and there will be much debate, especially as the government is proposing provisions concerning performances of marriages by religious institutions that differ from those contained in the England/Wales act.  Similarly, separate legislation for Northern Ireland has yet to be considered.

The addition of England and Wales to the jurisdictions with marriage equality significantly increases the overall number of people living in such jurisdictions.  According to 2011 census figures, the combined populations of England and Wales amount to more than 56 million people.

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