2014 was a big year for marriage equality in the UK.
Same-sex marriage is now possible in the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland. As marriage law is devolved to the governments of each country in the Union, the status of same-sex marriage is different in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The UK Parliament in London passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales in July 2013, which came into force on 13 March 2014, and the first same-sex marriages took place on 29 March 2014. (England does not have a separate Parliament, and while Wales has an assembly, it does not have full legal control over issues affecting the country.) Same sex couples already in civil partnerships (legal in the UK since December 2005) had to wait until 10th December 2014 to convert the legal status of their partnership to marriage. Those who haven’t already made the change can get their new marriage certificate for free before 10th December 2015, as an incentive to make the change.
The Scottish Parliament passed legislation to allow same-sex marriage in February 2014, which received Royal Assent on 12 March 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.
The Northern Ireland Executive (the devolved government in the province) has stated that it does not intend to introduce legislation allowing for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. Same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions are treated as civil partnerships. Human rights organisation Amnesty International predicted this week that a couple will challenge the ban on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland through the courts in 2015.
Meanwhile the government of the Republic of Ireland announced in December 2014 plans for a referendum on same-sex marriage in May 2015, and the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) announced today that he would ‘campaign strongly’ for marriage equality. So while it’s good news for most of the British Isles, our cousins in Ireland – north and south – still have a way to go. In the south it looks like it may be just a matter of time, as polls show a sizeable majority in favour of extending marriage to same sex-couples. In the north the issue remains controversial and divisive, with opposition led by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), founded by Rev Ian Paisley, the only Christian cleric in the UK to found a church and a political party. His son Ian Paisley Jr, a DUP member of Parliament, has sought assurances from the UK Government that Northern Ireland will not be obliged to recognises same-sex marriages from elsewhere in the UK.
Perhaps you’re thinking, what’s that got to do with me? As Martin Luther King once said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ And as 2015 is UK election year, with another coalition government likely to follow, it’s important to know that the DUP is claiming to hold the balance of power in the event of a minority Conservative government.