GAY MARRIAGES (ACCORDING TO LAW)

Engagement.
Since 1970 engagement has not been a legally binding contract so you can't sue for damages if it is broken off. There is usually no legal duty to return the ring, unless agreed to.
Marriage.
No one can be forced to marry against their wishes.
Both members of the couple must be aged 16 or over.
You can't already be married (see bigamy).
Can't be too closely related.
Under 18s must gain their parent's or guardian's written consent, otherwise it is a criminal offence, although the marriage would still be valid.
Marriages involving under-16s are not recognised by law.
You need at least two witnesses to sign register on the day.
Changing your name.
Although many women in Britain change their surname when they marry, they don't have to. Women can keep their own family name, or join the two in a double-barrelled surname such as Smith-Jones.
Bigamy.
Being married to more than one person at one time is only recognised in England and Wales if it took place in a country which allows marriages of this kind and both were legally free to marry in this way.
Same-sex marriages.
Same-sex couples are now able to enter into a civil partnership by registering a formal commitment to one another. This gives them legal recognition for their relationship, which means they have almost exactly the same rights and responsibilities as married couples.
The ceremony.
You can get married by a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony. In both cases, the following legal requirements must be met:
the marriage must be conducted by a person or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in the district;
the marriage must be entered in the marriage register and signed by both parties, two witnesses, the person who conducted the ceremony and, if that person is not authorised to register marriages, the person who is registering the marriage.
Civil - performed by a Registrar.
Can take place in a Registry Office or any other premises approved for marriage by a local authority (a stately home, theatre, zoo etc). A Government White Paper seems set to change this, so that instead of the venue being licensed for marriage, it is the person conducting the ceremony who must be licensed.
Religious - performed by a Minister of the church.
Almost anyone can have an Anglican marriage, however exceptions include divorcees whose exes are still alive. It can take place in any church or chapel of the Church of England or Church of Wales, or an Armed Forces Chapel, without the need to involve a Registrar.
They can also take place in other places of worship, but only if they are within the Registration District where you or your spouse live, and then only with the involvement of a Registrar.

In Britain, civil ceremonies are the nearest substitute available for same sex marriage contracts. Civil ceremonies, or civil weddings, have become very popular since the law changed in 2005 to allow gay couples to form civil partnerships.
The Civil Partnership Act.
Cities and towns in the UK were inundated with same sex marriage bookings after the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in 2005. Around 15,000 gay weddings took place in the first nine months after the introduction of the law. Although same sex civil ceremonies are not regarded officially as weddings, the partnership act does give gay couple some of the same rights as married couples.
The Civil Partnership Act has caused some controversy since its introduction, especially from religious organisations. But advances in gay rights have been proceeding slowly and the question of why same sex couples cannot simply become married is still awaiting an answer from the government. Prior to 2005 civil partnerships were not possible in the UK and at the moment the option for gay couples is either to proceed with a civil partnership or wait until the law changes and permits same sex marriage contracts.

Civil Partnership Rights.

The main advantage to entering into a civil partnership is that the contract will give many of the same rights to same sex couples as would be afforded to any married couple. These rights under the law include:
Legal Requirements.
There are some requirements that will need to be met before a civil partnership can be seen as official. These rules include that both partners be of the same sex and are not already married or still in a civil partnership. Both partners must also be over 16 years of age, and if they are under 18 then consent must have been received from the parents.

The Civil Partnership Process.

Couples who are intending to form a civil partnership will have to register their intention by giving at least 15 days notice of their intention to register. When they give this notice they must also register where the partnership is to be actually performed. This notice should be given at the registry office in the district where the couple reside. All that is then required in order to enter into the same sex “marriage” contract is for the couple to sign the register on the official day at the registry office or other approved location.
The registration should be witnessed by at least two people and rings can be exchanged. There is no legal requirement for either couple to adopt the other’s surname, but some couples will do this as a further symbol of their commitment and love towards each other.

Terminating a Civil Partnership Contract.

As with marriage contracts there are a few legal requirements that will need to be met before a civil partnership can be dissolved. These will include applying to the court and supplying evidence that the partnership has broken down beyond repair. Reasons for the breakdown can be unreasonable behaviour, desertion for two years, separation for two years with an agreement to terminate the partnership, and separation for five years where no agreement is needed.
Once the partnership is dissolved then some of the legal rights may also be terminated. However, as with marriages, some rights including parental responsibilities and child maintenance will still officially be recognised by the court. If agreements regarding these rights cannot be reached between the couple then the court system may be called in to resolve the dispute and help both parents come to an agreement.

Many people are of the opinion that people should only enter into marriage contracts with love as the key factor. But these agreements are a step forward in giving equal rights to everyone regardless of whether the agreements are called same sex marriage contracts or civil partnerships.
The proposals will delight equality campaigners who believe civil partnership is a 'second-class' status Photo: ALAMY
Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, said the Coalition was considering allowing same-sex couples to include key religious elements in civil partnership ceremonies.

In a parliamentary answer, she disclosed that homosexual couples could be permitted to use “religious readings, music and symbols”.
This would make civil partnerships practically indistinguishable from traditional weddings as Parliament recently removed the bar on same-sex unions in churches and other places of worship through an amendment to Labour’s Equality Act.
The proposals will delight equality campaigners who believe civil partnership is a “second-class” status, but they prompted fierce opposition from mainstream Christian leaders who believe marriage can only take place between a man and a woman.
Church of England sources warned that the Government could not make such dramatic changes merely by issuing regulations or guidance, as the current Civil Partnership Act prohibits the use of religious services during the registrations.
A spokesman made it clear that senior ?figures in the established faith would resist any moves effectively to legalise homosexual marriage.
The Rt Rev Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, added in a personal statement: “As some of us warned at the time, the amendment to the Equality Bill has opened an area of unhelpful doubt and confusion. The Church of England will not be allowing use of any of its buildings for civil partnership registrations.”
Lord Tebbit, a former Tory party chairman who spoke out against same-sex unions in churches in the Lords, said: “I wouldn’t want anything done to add to the pretence that a civil partnership is a marriage. That’s the key thing, and anything which changes the law would have to come back to the Lords.”
In 2005, same-sex couples in Britain were allowed for the first time to take part in ceremonies that made them “civil partners”.
his gave them similar legal rights to married spouses, but the law required the events to take place in register offices or approved venues such as hotels and stately homes.
The ceremony has had to be secular, with no hymns or Bible readings, in order to preserve the definition of religious marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
When the Equality Bill was being debated earlier this year, an amendment was added by Lord Alli that permitted civil partnership ceremonies to take place in places of worship if the relevant religious group permitted it.
Quakers, Unitarians and the Liberal Judaism movement will ask to be allowed to host the ceremonies but the Church of England will resist it, despite the wishes of some liberal clerics, as will the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Registrars provided by local councils would still have to conduct civil partnership ceremonies.

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