Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Jurisdiction and Recognition of Judgments) Regulations 2014
Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Registration of Shared Buildings) Regulations 2014
Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014
Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014
Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014
Motions to Approve
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg to move the six Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper en bloc. Both this House and the other place overwhelmingly supported the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. The Bill was fully debated in detail, passed through all its parliamentary stages with overwhelming support in both Houses, and received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013. The passage of the Act was a historic moment, delivering, at last, full legal equality for lesbians and gay men in England and Wales. As such, it is a hallmark of the fair and inclusive society that we all wish to see. The Act, quite simply, extends the important institution of marriage to same sex couples, ending the unfairness which has prevented people from marrying simply because of their sexual orientation.
Noble Lords will recall that in our debates during the Act’s passage, some were worried that it would change the nature of marriage in some way. However, we made it clear then, and I am happy to make it clear again now, that the Act does not affect marriage as it currently exists between opposite-sex couples in any way at all. Nor does it affect the understanding of marriage held by many religious organisations and individuals that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. The Government entirely accept and respect that view of marriage, and the quadruple lock of religious protections in the Act ensures that no religious organisation or representative can be compelled in any way to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple against their beliefs.
The Act does not change marriage but simply opens it up to more couples; that is the basis on which it secured wide agreement on all Benches in your Lordships’ House. The statutory instruments we are considering today simply give effect to the matters we have already agreed in the Act. These six affirmative instruments, along with the six negative instruments laid on 23 January and 13 February, are concerned only with the practical implementation of the Act’s provisions that will make marriage a reality for same-sex couples in England and Wales.
I will briefly explain each of the affirmative instruments in turn. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) Order 2014 does three main things. First, in Schedule 1, it makes amendments to primary legislation that are consequential on the coming into force of the 2013 Act, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. These amendments give effect to the central aim of the 2013 Act—that the existing institution of marriage should be extended to same-sex couples. That general position is achieved, in the main, through provisions in the Act which we refer to as the gloss—Section 11(1) and (2) and Schedule 3—which provide that references to marriage in existing law will be read as including the marriage of a same-sex couple, and a reference to a married person is to be read as including a reference to a person married to someone of the same sex.
However, in some cases there is also a need to make a consequential change to the law to ensure that the correct result is achieved so that the marriage of same-sex couples has the same effect as the marriage of opposite-sex couples. This is the case where there are historical gender-based differences and we need to equalise provision between married opposite-sex couples in order to treat all married people in the same way. In some cases we are also correcting minor omissions made when the Civil Partnership Act was brought into force.
We have always been clear that there are exceptions to this general approach, where for practical reasons married same-sex couples will be treated differently from married opposite-sex couples. In these cases we therefore need to make provision that is contrary to the gloss in order to achieve the right result, so the second thing that this order does this is to make contrary provision in Schedule 2. This approach is needed where the Government’s policy is that married same-sex couples should be treated in the same way as civil partners rather than married opposite-sex couples, and where historical gender-specific provisions are to be maintained. For example, we agreed this approach during the passage of the Act in relation to pension survivor benefits—although noble Lords will recall that we also committed to reviewing that position, and I will return to that review later. Schedule 3 to the order then makes textual amendments to existing provisions where this is needed to make the effect of the law on different couples completely clear.
Thirdly and finally, the order provides for marriages of same-sex couples under the law of England and Wales to be treated as civil partnerships in Scotland. The Scottish Ministers have given their consent to this provision, which is necessary pending the extension of marriage to same-sex couples under Scottish law.
I turn now to the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Registration of Shared Buildings) Regulations 2014. Noble Lords will remember that we agreed the approach to the registration for the solemnisation of same-sex marriages of formally shared religious buildings—that is, those with agreements under the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969—in Schedule 1 to the Act. These regulations apply the agreed approach in the case of religious buildings that are informally shared. They deal with the processes for the registration and cancelling of the registration of informally shared religious buildings, and what happens when the identity of a sharing church changes.
The regulations will enable marriages of same-sex couples to take place in informally shared places of worship according to religious rites other than those of the Church of England and Church of Wales, but only if the governing authorities of all the qualifying sharing religious organisations have given consent to the building being registered for the marriages of same-sex couples. Sharing religious organisations can give consent to the use of the premises for marriages of same-sex couples by other sharers while still refusing to conduct such marriages themselves, and they can withhold their consent to the registration of the building if they wish, in which case no marriages of same-sex couples can take place there. The regulations also deal with the process to be followed where a religious building that is registered for the marriage of same-sex couples becomes shared, or where a shared religious building ceases to be shared.
I turn now to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Jurisdiction and Recognition of Judgments) Regulations 2014. These regulations do two things. First, they set out when a court in England and Wales will have jurisdiction in proceedings for divorce, judicial separation or annulment for married same-sex couples. Secondly, they set out when a court in England and Wales will recognise a judgment of a court of another EU member state in respect of such proceedings. These arrangements mirror those already in place for marriages of opposite-sex couples and civil partnerships.
I turn now to the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Use of Armed Forces’ Chapels) Regulations 2014, which set out procedures for the Secretary of State to register and cancel the registration of Armed Forces’ chapels for marriage of same-sex couples. The regulations provide that, before applying to the Registrar General to register a military chapel for marriage of same-sex couples, the Secretary of State must consult the relevant governing authority of any religious organisation that makes significant use of the chapel. When considering whether and when to make an application, the Secretary of State must take into account various matters, including a same-sex couple who wish to have their marriage solemnised in the chapel and the rights of the religious organisations that use the chapel. The regulations also ensure that Armed Forces’ chapels consecrated by the Church of England under ecclesiastical law will not be registered for marriages of same-sex couples.
The Overseas Marriage (Armed Forces) Order 2014 allows marriage overseas where one of the parties is a member of the Armed Forces, a civilian subject to service discipline or their child, but in respect of marriage of same-sex couples only where the host country or territory has given consent in writing. The couple will need to nominate the part of the United Kingdom according to whose law they wish to marry. It allows religious rites to be used, but religious ceremonies for same-sex couples can be conducted only if the relevant religious organisation has opted in and the authorised person is willing to be present. The order does not apply to Northern Ireland. Opposite-sex Armed Forces couples wishing to marry overseas under the law of Northern Ireland will continue to use the existing procedures under the Foreign Marriage Act 1892.
Finally, I turn to the Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014. Like the previous order, it replaces the existing regime for marriage of opposite-sex couples in overseas consulates with one which is extended to include same-sex couples, and it includes a requirement for the couple to nominate the relevant part of the UK under whose law they wish to be married. The reason for this approach is that, until the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Bill is implemented, marriage of same-sex couples will be lawful only in England and Wales.
I will touch briefly on some issues that are not covered in these instruments but in which I know that some noble Lords are particularly interested. First, some have asked when couples who are in civil partnerships will be able to convert their civil partnership into marriage. Our priority has always been to ensure that same-sex couples who are not currently in a civil partnership and who have been waiting to marry in order to formalise their relationship are able to do so at the earliest possible opportunity. I am delighted that we are now doing that earlier than we anticipated, so that the first same-sex weddings will be able to take place on 29 March. We understand that some couples in a civil partnership want to be able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage quickly, and we are working hard to ensure that they can do so as soon as possible. We aim to do this before the end of 2014.
Similarly, we are working hard to implement the provisions in the Act which, for the first time, will allow people to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage, where both spouses want the marriage to continue. Again, we aim to do this before the end the year.
The Act also requires the Government to undertake three reviews, and the House might find it helpful to know about the progress on these. First, Section 14 of the Act requires us to review whether non-religious belief organisations, such as humanists, should be able to conduct legally valid marriages of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. As part of the review, we will work with interested belief organisations, including the British Humanist Association, and will carry out a full public consultation on the issues involved. We expect to publish a report setting out the outcome of the review by the end of 2014, as required by the Act.
Secondly, Section 15 of the Act requires a review of the operation and future of civil partnerships in England and Wales. As part of the review, we launched a public consultation on 23 January and will consider responses to the consultation alongside evidence about marriage of same-sex couples, civil partnership and possible options for the future.
As I mentioned earlier, the Government are also undertaking a review to explore what the costs and other effects would be of making changes to reduce or eliminate differences in survivor benefits in occupational pensions, as required by Section 16 of the Act. I can assure the House that the review is currently under way, and is looking at the differences in survivor benefits between various different groups. We are also taking views from key stakeholders. We will publish a report on the review before 1 July this year, as required by the Act. I commend these statutory instruments to the House.
My Lords, I welcome this series of statutory instruments introduced by the Government today. It is really hard, sitting on these Benches, to try to find a form of words with which to congratulate the Government when they do something well, but not congratulate them too much because they are on the Benches opposite. However, I am going to forgo convention because I think they have done a great job to bring forward so quickly the regulations to allow same-sex marriages. The way in which they have been tackling the reviews has been admirable too. It is probably the last time I will say that, so I would savour the moment.
This is a time for great pride in this House and in the role that it played in ensuring safe passage of same-sex marriages on to the statute book. As I have spoken to people up and down the country, I have detected—and I do not know whether other noble Lords have done so—a real sea change in their attitude towards this House. We did a good thing in passing this legislation and we should be proud of what we did, and of the way and manner in which we did it.
I pay tribute to Ben Summerskill, the former chief executive of Stonewall, who has left the organisation. I know that many noble Lords on all sides of the House would want to thank him for his work, not just on this Bill, but on others as well. In doing so, I welcome Ruth to her post as acting chief executive. I hope that she will not come and visit us as many times as Ben did, but she is certainly welcome.
I am sure that Ben would say to me that it is not right to let this moment pass without reflecting on some of the not so positive changes in the law that have taken place internationally over the past seven months. New repressive and brutal laws were enacted in Uganda only this week. Every one of us would be in prison for seven years for the speeches that we make today or for the speeches that we made during the passage of the same-sex marriage Bill, and there would be life imprisonment for many of us who are gay. Publishing the names of gay activists in the national newspaper as a way of inciting violence and endangering the lives of those brave men and women is disgusting and we should all condemn it. Also, for the gay men and women in India, the High Court’s decision to recriminalise homosexuality must be a real blow. We should think, too, of the gay men and women in Russia who are being violently victimised by new laws. We have seen much progress in this country, as is plain from today and from the speed at which the Government have moved to implement the Act, but in Africa, the Middle East and many other countries in the Commonwealth, there is still a lot to do.
I also hope that the Minister will work with the Foreign Office in continuing to press for the human rights of all citizens around the world. Can she now look at recognising same-sex marriage for couples who have been legally married under state law in the United States? We will not recognise it in this country as we think that it is a federal, not a state, matter. It would send out a signal to our American cousins that change needs to take place in America too. Now that we have same-sex marriage in this country, we can recognise same-sex marriage which has taken place legally and has been endorsed by those states in America.
The Minister may think that this is straying a little off the path but I think that it would also be useful if the Foreign Office put in the Library a consolidated note of all the things it is doing in terms of promoting gay and lesbian rights. I know that it is working hard in many cases but it is quite difficult to find all the different strands of work in a single place.
Finally, I thank the Government not just for implementing this legislation but for the sense of joy they have brought in doing so. It will be a lasting legacy of this Parliament, uniting all the Benches and all our parties, and proving what we all know—that this House is a place for good, it works and, more often than the other place might suggest, it is on the side of the people.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for her very careful explanation of the long and complex orders and regulations before us. She made them extremely clear. When the Conservative Party put in its manifesto for the 2010 election a commitment to legislate for same-sex marriages, I wonder whether those who wrote that paragraph of the manifesto had the remotest conception of what would be involved in the way of changing legislation. The three schedules to the main order that my noble friend described, covering nearly 24 pages of typescript and literally hundreds of amendments to existing legislation and orders, speaks volumes about what had to be done and what has been done very successfully, as far as I can make out, by the department’s advisers and lawyers.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Alli, I rejoice that the first same-sex marriages will be happening sooner than had originally been planned. I have accepted the invitation of the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Reverend Mark Oakley, to a celebration of the first same-sex marriages at the end of this month and I am sure that I am not alone in looking forward to it. That is a remarkable development and I know that many others in the Church will recognise this as a move in the right direction.
I want to raise one specific matter which my noble friend mentioned towards the end of her speech and that is the desire of couples who are in civil partnerships to convert their civil partnerships to marriages as soon as possible. I tabled a Question on this a while ago and the reply from my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble appeared in a list of Written Answers yesterday. Apparently, he was not satisfied with the first draft of the answer that he was given and he told me that it would be a while before we got it but I now have it. However, it raises a number of questions of which I have given my noble friend notice. It says that the Government hope to achieve this by the end of this year. That is nine months away and one has to ask why. It says that these aspects of the Act,
“involve developing and implementing completely new procedures and processes”.—[Official Report, 26/02/14; col. WA261.]
Can the Minister explain to the House what those completely new procedures and processes are? After all, a civil partnership is half way there already. Compared with what has had to be done in these orders to make the rest of the law applicable to same-sex marriages, one would have thought at first sight that it would not have been too difficult to have done this, if not at the same time, at least no more than a few weeks or a month or two afterwards. Why so long? What are these procedures? Will there have to be further orders? Is it going to be necessary for Parliament to approve the orders?
The point has been made to me that some people in civil partnerships are elderly and are anxious that they should convert to marriages with the legal consequences of that as soon as possible. If one dies before that has been done, then the handling of property and so on is different from what it would be if they were married. To be told that they may have to wait nine months or more before this can be done has caused a good deal of dismay and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give a better explanation than my noble friend Lord Gardiner gave at the end of his reply in the Hansard published this morning.
Apart from that I very much echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, has said. I think the Government have done a magnificent job on this and I take some pride that in this House, in contrast with the other place, on every single Division a majority of Conservatives supported the Bill. We may be on average 20 to 25 years older than they are at the other end and yet we achieved that. As the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said, that is a considerable tribute to the House of Lords.
My Lords, there is an African proverb which says:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
We are coming to the end of a very long legislative journey. It began in 2002 when my noble friend Lord Lester drafted the first civil partnership legislation, which was withdrawn but was then swiftly taken up and adopted by the then Labour Government, for which they deserve enormous credit. It continued with my right honourable friend in another place, Nick Clegg, in early 2010 stating his position that there should be equal marriage. He was closely and swiftly followed by David Cameron, who deserves enormous credit. My redoubtable colleague, Lynne Featherstone, notwithstanding the fact that this was not in the coalition agreement, announced in 2011 that there would be a consultation on equal marriage and civil partnership. It is as a result of all that work that we have arrived at the situation we are in now.
It was a joyous day on 15 July 2013 when, in the sunshine, we were all serenaded by the London Gay Men’s Chorus outside, as they celebrated with us several weeks and months of very hard work by Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House. We were steered through that process so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell of Beeston, in a truly remarkable piece of ministerial work. It was a momentous occasion. Since last summer it has been my privilege to meet people all over the UK. I have been a Member of this House since 1999 and I cannot remember so many members of the public going out of their way to express their thanks to this House for doing its job in passing this legislation. They know the true import of what it will mean in their communities.
There has been one very recent discordant note, from the House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage, issued on 15 February. It was a somewhat dispiriting announcement, and we have to accept that for our colleagues who are members of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, their road to equal treatment will be longer and tougher than they had perhaps expected. I say to the bishops that the default position in the legislation throughout our discussions was that those religions that did not wish to recognise or to celebrate same-sex marriage would not have to do so. At every point that was conceded. Throughout our debates on the subject, those of us who believe the church’s position to be wrong held our peace, and we have still not had that discussion.
However, I hope that the bishops will understand and respect that even in these statutory instruments that same spirit of recognition of their position remains, particularly in the recognition of military chapels and on shared premises. I hope that the individual members of churches who support same-sex marriages can look forward to a point when they can have a dialogue with those members who do not yet formally support them. The noble Lord, Lord Alli is right. The legislation for those of us who have the great luck to live in this country means a tremendous amount. All over the world our friends and colleagues who are gay face the most horrible oppression and intimidation. The church, as with other organisations, has a role to play in making those people’s lives safe.
On 29 March, England and Wales will take one step further to becoming countries that afford dignity and respect to all citizens, including those of us who are gay. I am delighted that Scotland will be coming along fairly swiftly afterwards. I thank all noble Lords and Members of another place who joined the person who today I can call my noble friend Lord Alli, me and the rest of us on what has been a truly wonderful journey.
My Lords, I, too, want to associate myself with the remarks of noble Lords this afternoon, particularly those of my noble friend Lord Alli. I, too, congratulate Stonewall on all its hard work across all parties in ensuring that this final act of equality is achieved. In particular, I agree with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Alli about Ben Summerskill, who has done a tremendous job over recent times, and, of course, I welcome Ruth Hunt as the acting director of Stonewall.
This country is now a beacon of equality. I am proud of the record of the previous Government in achieving many changes, not least bringing in an equal age of consent, civil partnerships and the end of discrimination; I am incredibly proud of all those things. I am proud, too, of this Government and of our Prime Minister, who was determined to see this final Act of equality through. Therefore, I want to associate myself with all noble Lords who have spoken today. This country is indeed a beacon of equality but, as noble Lords have said, it brings into sharp focus the difference with those countries where homosexuality is still illegal—indeed, not only illegal but a criminal act punishable, in some cases, by death; some of us have seen the horrific films that have been circulated.
I am also proud of the tremendous cross-party support. Today is one of those rare occasions where I want to break with convention and refer to noble Lords opposite as my noble friends, because they have become friends in this fine battle. Politics is often personal, and I declare an interest in that I have been in a civil partnership since the very first day it was possible. My husband and I were incredibly proud when we were able to do that. We had planned the ceremony for 12 months previously but, ironically, the delays in this House delayed our ability to set the date that we wanted, which was on my birthday. As it happened, my birthday fell on the day when civil partnerships came into force, so we were able to do that. However, my husband has said to me in the strongest possible terms, “Why can’t we get married? It has been in the papers, it has been announced and our families are ringing us up. My niece and nephew spoke to me only last week and asked why we can’t get married”. At one point, my husband suggested—my noble friend Lord Alli knows this—“Let’s get divorced so that we can get married”; I managed to put him off. Some friends of ours who had been in a civil partnership—again, my noble friend Lord Alli knows these people—were so confident and so proud that they proposed to each other on Christmas Day, invited all their friends from New York to come over in March and even booked the hotel. Then they discovered that they would not be able to marry because they were in a civil partnership.
I do not want to be churlish because it is fantastic news that the date has been brought forward. It is fantastic that we will see the first same-sex couples getting married so soon. However, I must associate my remarks with those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. Why does it take so long to organise allowing people to convert their civil partnerships into marriage? I am pleased to see the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who did such a fantastic job in pushing the Bill through Parliament, here. She knows that I raised at the very first stage the question of when we would be able to have a ceremony to convert our civil partnerships into marriages. She gave me those assurances and I know that the assurances are there. Will the Minister, in her response, please do more than say, “We hope by the end of the year”? Will she set a date as quickly as possible? It does not matter when that date is. We are like other people who get married in that it takes a bit of planning—in my husband’s case, a lot of planning—and we need to book things. So will the Minister please set the date, so that I can set the date?
It would seem odd to me if I were to just sit here silently after people, particularly the noble Baroness, have said what they have. First, I am sure that no one in the House of Bishops would have approached with anything other than irony the fact that the statement was issued on 14 February. Secondly, I entirely associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, about Uganda and other countries where such repressive measures have been taken. I am fairly certain that no one in the House of Bishops would want to say anything different.
The next thing to say is that, without any sense of disloyalty to the college to which I belong, there was a variety of opinion on how we should approach the problem. It is a problem because we are dealing with a very long tradition, set out in the Book of Common Prayer. For a church that has a tradition that now goes back 450 years in what it has been saying about marriage, to move in a significantly different direction is a significant shift. There will be a variety of opinions, but that is an issue.
The second issue refers to what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was touching on. We are part of a worldwide communion. One very difficult thing for a worldwide communion is somehow to balance being sensitive to different cultural values in different places. By different cultural values, I do not mean repressive measures being passed in Acts by Governments, which none of us would support. That puts us in a particularly difficult position, because all the time we are trying to ensure that we listen to what people here are saying and what people’s consciences here are saying but, at the same time, to stay with the communion.
Back in the 1988 Lambeth conference, when there was a fairly heated debate about polygamy in some African countries, the western provinces in the Anglican communion worked very hard, saying, “We understand that you are in a different place from where we are, and we are not going to take a hard line on this at the moment”. We have not yet got to that position in the communion. For me to stay other than loyal to the House of Bishops’ statement would be more than irresponsible, because I know that one real concern is that it is not just about us and the Church of England, it is also about the Anglican communion. That is a key issue, and may not have been made quite as clear as it might have been when the statement was issued.
As your Lordships will see, I am not speaking from a prepared text. I think that there is universal concern in the Church of England that we move away from any sense of homophobia and do all that we can to affirm people in different sorts of relationships, but, at the moment, that is where the house finds itself, because it had to respect the consciences of people bringing very different opinions.
I hope that that makes it clear to the House that that was not being done in an unthinking, hardhearted or insensitive way—it was certainly not intended to be—but your Lordships will be very pleased to hear that every Bishop, as far as I know, who is a Member of the House received an envelope last week with a note reading, “With compliments for your pastoral sensitivity”, and the envelope included a humbug.
My Lords, as one who was blessed with more than 50 years of a very happy marriage, I think it is appropriate just to pause for a moment to give tribute to marriage itself. I am so very happy for my many gay friends that they will be able to participate in something which is one of the great blessings to human beings. I join in the congratulations to my noble friend and her colleagues on having brought this legislation forward, and on speeding up the timetable and the processes. I know how very much it means to so many of my very good friends. I know that at least one of the couples who are very good friends of mine, and who are in a civil partnership, like the noble Lord, are eagerly waiting for the point at which it will be possible to translate that into a marriage.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak, but I am one of the Members of this House who was bridesmaid to my noble friend Lord Collins. I have forgotten how many years ago. All of us are now Peers in this House. All of us dressed up beautifully; I am just worried what we will have to wear the second time round, because we are all a bit older and it is a bit more difficult to get us into the things that we wore before.
I warmly welcome this. Obviously, knowing the noble Lords, I know exactly how sincere they are in wanting this to happen. I am sure everybody agrees with that. I firmly believe that we should not be embarrassed to congratulate the Government. If the Government are doing good things, we should acknowledge that. It would be good if we had that reciprocal arrangement all the time in the House. Nevertheless I am a pragmatist. I congratulate unreservedly the noble Baroness on the work that she has done. It is tremendous. I share the joy that people are feeling at this moment in the House.
My Lords, I do not want to detain your Lordships, but I was not part of your Lordships’ House when noble Lords agreed to pass equal marriage, so I am going to take my opportunity now.
I have to declare an interest. I am married to a man, and it is not the first time that I have been married. I remember going on an extended interview process to become one of the most senior police officers in the UK. One of the questions in the pre-interview questionnaire was, “What is the most difficult decision you have ever had to make, first, in your professional life and, secondly, in your private life?”. In the answer to the second, I put, “Having been married for five years, telling my wife that I was gay”. I never believed that I would be able to marry again.
In 2010 I took part in a debate at the Liberal Democrat Party conference where we were the first party to adopt equal marriage as party policy. I told the people at that conference about my marriage. Having fallen in love with a Norwegian, in January 2009—Norway having decided to abolish civil partnerships and allow everybody, whether they were opposite-sex or same-sex couples, to get married—I stood in the courthouse in Oslo in front of a judge. When she said, “We are here today to witness the marriage of Brian and Petter”, the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage really struck home.
I was not part of your Lordships’ House when the legislation on equal marriage was passed, but I have to tell noble Lords what a difference it makes to me, to my husband, and to people like me. It is important that your Lordships pass these statutory instruments today.
My Lords, I think we would all agree—certainly those of us who joined forces last summer to ensure that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill reached the statute book—that today is a cause for celebration. I was reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, about that happy day when I found myself outside on the pavement with the Minister holding a placard that said, “Girls marry girls—get over it”. I have the picture on my phone and I promise that I will publish it at some point. That was indeed a happy day and a happy event, and today we are taking another step nearer the first time that an actual marriage can take place between a same-sex couple.
I know that the Government have been determined to allow that happy event to happen as soon as possible and I congratulate them on doing that. This means that there are still some matters outstanding, and the fact that we want this to happen as soon as possible should not excuse us from the need to do some scrutiny.
I have given the Minister notice of a few questions, some of which have already been asked today. First, of course, how soon can the conversion of a civil partnership to a same-sex marriage take place and what timetable might achieve that? The Act provides for same-sex couples seeking to convert civil partnerships into marriages to do so, as well as for an opposite-sex married couple to remain married where one of the partners wishes to change gender—an important matter which we dealt with last summer. These are provisions which the update says should come into force by the end of the year. I would be grateful if the Minister could give some indication of when further necessary legislation will be brought forward, as well as providing an update on when we might expect to see these provisions come into force.
From the commencement of the Scottish Act, if a trans person living in England or Wales wishes to get married and wants to ensure that they could not later be subject to spousal veto when applying for gender recognition while in that marriage, they could well be able to circumvent this process by opting to get married in Scotland—but why should they? Can the Minister explain whether a couple whose marriage was registered in Scotland but who subsequently lived in England would be able to apply to the sheriff courts for their interim GRC, or will the Government review and revise this entire area so that they do not need to do so?
At present, of the 11 legal jurisdictions in Europe which have same-sex marriage, only those trans people in existing marriages registered in the legal jurisdiction of England and Wales are subject to a spousal veto on their access to gender recognition while married. The other 10 legal jurisdictions, including Scotland, allow gender recognition without requiring the consent of the trans person’s spouse. We discussed this issue during the passage of the Bill but it is not covered, obviously, by these orders. Does the Minister at least accept that this issue does not sit well with the drive for equality for all groups? Will she therefore seek to continue working on this to make the changes that trans people want to see?
Turning to the issue of pensions, which was debated at length and with some passion throughout the passage of the Bill, Section 16 places a duty on the Secretary of State to arrange a review, as we have recognised. I am very happy to hear that this seems to be on track and will be published within the year. However, is a consultation going to take place? As far as I am aware, as yet there is no public consultation being issued by the Department for Work and Pensions. Given that there are only 18 weeks left between now and when the review is supposed to be complete, what is going to happen and how might that consultation take place? Indeed, if it is to be launched, can the Minister offer an assurance that the Government will not simply be listening to the occupational pensions industry, which will quite clearly have strong and shared financial interests in this report saying one thing, and that there will be a consultation which listens to and consults independent experts?
If the Secretary of State decides in his report that the law on survivor benefits should be changed to fit in with the spirit of the Act, will the Minister ensure that the necessary orders are brought forward quickly to redress the inequality as soon as possible? As I am sure the noble Baroness will be aware, this issue has been in the news over the past week following the conclusion of a case under the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which found that it was legal under European law for employers and pension scheme trustees to discriminate against same-sex couples. If it becomes clear that companies are not going to do this voluntarily, the sooner the Government complete their deliberations the better for all the couples concerned—even if it is just that they will now know where they will stand financially in later life and be able to plan accordingly.
I seek some clarification about whether the Government intend to allow foreign civil partners to convert their civil partnerships and civil unions to marriage in England and Wales in the future. Similarly, where civil partnerships or civil unions established in a foreign country are converted to a marriage in Scotland, will these be recognised as marriages in England and Wales?
I am concerned about the use of the Armed Forces’ chapels regulations, which the Minister has explained to the House. While it is obviously to be welcomed that these chapels can now be registered, I am worried that this provision is unlikely to result in very many requests for registration actually being approved. The wording of the order is:
“In considering whether to make an application and the timing of such an application, the Secretary of State must have due regard to the following matters … any agreement or objection by the relevant governing authority of a relevant religious organisation as to the proposed application”.
These regulations require the Secretary of State to undertake a process of consultation before making an application to establish the views of the faiths and their congregations that make significant regular use of the relevant chapel. The Explanatory Memorandum states that the majority of Armed Forces’ chapels are shared by several faiths, which may adopt different positions towards the marriage of same-sex couples. If the results of the consultation favour the beliefs of faiths that do not accept same-sex marriage, does that mean that same-sex marriages in Armed Forces’ chapels would be vetoed and what do the Government propose should happen under those circumstances?
Could the Minister advise us on whether she has undertaken any initial discussions to determine what the attitude of various religious authorities is likely to be? For example, if a place of worship is used by a faith that wants to offer same-sex marriage and one that does not, will one position automatically trump the other, as it has done elsewhere in this legislation? I am trying to get to the bottom of how a decision will be made if there are two different faiths using one building or chapel and one wants to permit same-sex marriage and one is opposed to it. Given that the Secretary of State for Defence’s current views are in opposition to this legislation, I am slightly concerned about how the decision would be made.
Finally, there is the issue of guidance. The Explanatory Notes mention that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will produce some overarching guidance on the Act itself. Could the Minister tell us when that guidance will be published, who it will be aimed at, what input her department will have in its drafting, and how comprehensive distribution can be ensured, given the severely reduced resources of the EHRC over recent years?
I put on record my thanks to the Minister for her openness, her consultation and the way in which these orders have been handled. It has been a continuation of how we took the Bill through to become an Act last year. I know we are not quite at the end of the road yet, but I can assure the noble Baroness that she will have our full co-operation to make sure that we get to where we want to be as soon as possible.
My Lords, I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I thank the noble Lords for their tributes, their thanks and, above all, for working together on this. It has been incredibly heart-warming to work on this Act and to be taking through these SIs now. As my noble friend Lady Barker has said, what a joy it was to wear the pink carnations of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and to go outside and be serenaded by the London Gay Men’s Chorus. It really was a tremendous joy. Extending marriage to same-sex couples is about righting a historical unfairness. The principles and arguments for doing this have already been fully debated and supported by both Houses and the Act is on the statute book.
Noble Lords will remember that there were majorities for this legislation in every group in this House. My noble friend Lord Jenkin reminded us of that. They may also remember—I analysed it at the time—that there was a very interesting gender difference in our voting patterns. Among women who voted at Second Reading, 83% thought that the Bill should proceed, while 17% dissented. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that he consider us all as bridesmaids? I am sure we would enjoy it.
I noted the generosity of spirit that was shown, especially in the later stages of the Bill, by those for whom this legislation was a very difficult challenge. I commend them for that generosity of spirit. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said in this regard and what the right reverend Prelate has just said.
As I made clear, I hope, when I introduced this debate, these orders simply implement the decisions we made during the passage of the Act. They make sensible arrangements for the treatment of marriages of same-sex couples in a range of legislation. I went over the details in my introduction.
I shall address some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked me to provide more detail on what processes and procedures are required before couples can convert their civil partnership into marriage, and I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about his husband’s anxiety that we proceed extremely speedily. Briefly, the procedures and processes that we are looking at are changing various IT systems used by the General Register Office. I realise that this is not very romantic information, and neither are the other bits here. There is also delivering guidance and training to operational staff for making legislative changes and designing new application forms and certificates. Although these things are under way, I know that noble Lords will appreciate that they all take time. The conversion process will ensure that the rights and responsibilities of a couple in a civil partnership are protected—so do not get divorced—when they convert their relationship into a marriage. The effect of the conversion will be that they will be treated as if their marriage started on the date that their civil partnership was formed, although it sounds as if the noble Lord may be celebrating two dates in future. This is important for the couple, so we need to ensure that the new legal and administrative arrangements work properly.
My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked whether further orders will be required. I can confirm that various further pieces of secondary legislation will be required. I am sure that noble Lords look forward to discussing them.
My noble friend asked about delays and about when people in a civil partnership die before they have managed to convert their relationship into a marriage. We completely understand that couples in this difficult situation want to be able to fulfil their dream of being married, and we are working hard to make that possible as soon as we can. I remind my noble friend that the legal rights of such couples are assured by their civil partnership, so there will be no practical detriment to them by being civil partners rather than a married couple. However, we hear what noble Lords had to say. We are glad that they are pleased that we have managed to bring forward this date, and we are working very speedily to address the other issues. I will certainly feed back the points that noble Lords have made, especially the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that he needs to know what the date might be.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked a number of questions, and I am very grateful to her for flagging to me in advance the areas that she wanted to probe. She asked about pensions and, in particular, the review of survivor benefits that I mentioned in my introductory remarks. I can confirm that the review is under way and the terms of reference have been published in the Libraries of both Houses. The Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury are assessing the costs involved with any changes to the arrangements in public service and private occupational schemes. I spoke to my honourable friend Steve Webb about this the other day. They are also making arrangements to consult external stakeholders in line with the requirements of the Act. I assure the noble Baroness that these stakeholders will include representatives of the LGB community and trade unions as well as pension trustees, industry bodies and parliamentarians with a key interest in this review. We are continuing to make arrangements over the next few weeks so that the consultation begins in March. There are a number of issues that it needs to cover and a final report will be published on 1 July. We note the interest of the noble Baroness in this.
The legislation does not require a full public consultation, so we have not made additional plans for publication via the website. I am happy to feed back the concerns of noble Lords to the Treasury and DWP.
The noble Baroness asked about the implications of a particular case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. On 18 February, the tribunal upheld the appeal and accepted the Government’s submission that the framework directive did not have retrospective effect in relation to employment and pension rights accrued before the directive came into force. In this particular instance it is open to Mr Walker to apply for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. I am happy to write to the noble Baroness with any further details if that would help.
The noble Baroness also asked about a transgender person who might seek to marry in Scotland and whether they would be subject to a “spousal veto” when applying for gender recognition. She flagged up a difference in the Scottish legislation. She asked whether a couple whose marriage was registered in Scotland but who subsequently lived in England would be able to apply to the sheriff court for their interim gender recognition certificate and whether we would review that area. From the outset I will be clear that there is no spousal veto in the Act that we passed. Regardless of a spouse’s views, all applicants will be able to obtain their gender recognition. The Scottish system will work in a very similar way to the English system in most respects: couples who wish to stay together following gender recognition will each need to complete statutory declarations to that effect. If a statutory declaration is not received from the non-trans spouse, the gender recognition panel will issue an interim gender recognition certificate, which will enable proceedings to be brought to end the marriage.
However, the Scottish Act differs from our own Act in that applicants in a marriage registered in Scotland will have the option of applying to the sheriff court for their full gender recognition certificate before their marriage has ended. Applicants in England and Wales will have to wait until their marriage is ended to obtain their full certificate. In those circumstances there will be no automatic entitlement to a new marriage certificate and the non-trans spouse will be able to use the issue of the interim gender recognition as a ground for divorce indefinitely.
Jurisdiction in matrimonial proceedings depends primarily on whether a couple is able to establish the necessary connection with the country in which the couple is applying. In England and Wales the jurisdiction rules are set out in the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973, as amended by the 2013 Act. In every case it will depend on the couple’s circumstances as to which court will have the jurisdiction to hear the proceedings. Following implementation of our Act, I assure the noble Baroness that we have committed to monitor the position and we will continue to consider very carefully any further evidence that trans-stakeholders and, indeed, anyone else affected provides.
The noble Baroness asked me about a situation that may arise in Scotland in which civil partnerships or civil unions established in a foreign country are converted to a marriage in Scotland and whether they will be recognised as marriages in England and Wales. The Scottish Government will be consulting on this issue and we will of course work very closely with them to ensure that the law across the UK is coherent and help them to implement their own Bill. It is too soon to anticipate what may happen as a result of that.
The noble Baroness also asked about guidance and training in support of the Act. A wide range of public and internal staff guidance is being produced by various organisations, including the General Register Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and NGOs such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Stonewall and Citizens Advice. The guidance covers a range of practical, legal, operational and other issues and is aimed at a variety of audiences. We are confident that there will be sufficient information for those wishing to marry, register buildings, appoint authorised persons and so on, to find out what they need to know. For example, the General Register Office has produced and is producing a variety of guidance and training materials in different formats for registration staff in local authorities, in addition to information and guidance on how to register buildings to faith groups and the public. I pay tribute to Ben Summerskill, as did the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for his indomitable work in that area. Stonewall has produced guidance for same-sex couples considering marriage and converting their civil partnership to a marriage, which covers their rights and responsibilities and the steps that they need to take when arranging a marriage, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission will also produce a range of guidance. I hope that the husband of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will find all those pieces of paper useful.
Finally, on military chapels, the noble Baroness asked me if it is possible for a veto to be exercised as regards what happens within a military chapel for a same-sex couple. With the exception of chapels which are consecrated, the Secretary of State must be able to exercise their discretion, so there can be no absolute power of veto over the decision on registration. However, the regulations are clear as to the matters to which the Secretary of State must have clear regard. Important considerations will be the views of the religious organisations that are significant regular users of the chapel, and the availability of a chaplain who is willing to conduct the wedding of a same-sex couple and who belongs to a religious organisation that has opted in. Currently, none of the religious organisations that license chaplains to serve with the Armed Forces has announced its intention to opt into the marriage of same-sex couples. The 2013 Act is clear in requiring the consent of both the religious organisation whose rites would be used and the minister of religion involved.
In drawing to a close I will return to the reasons we so overwhelmingly agreed the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act last year. The removal of the final barrier to full legislative equality for lesbian and gay people by giving them access to the institution of marriage is a moment we can all be proud to have been part of—and that has certainly been echoed today. We have done this in a way which protects and promotes the religious freedom of those who believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and of that we can also be proud. I am confident that it will not be long before we look back on this moment and wonder why we waited so long. Listening to my noble friend Lord Paddick makes that even clearer.
Enabling same-sex couples to marry will not only bring fulfilment and joy to thousands of couples and their friends and families but is also a clear demonstration that Britain is a fair and inclusive place, where everyone has equal value. The noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Collins, and the right reverend Prelate are right to highlight the contrast with the situation in some countries around the world. We should treasure the freedoms that we have and be ever vigilant as we seek to support those who are less fortunate around the world. These statutory instruments are necessary to make marriage of same-sex couples a reality, and I hope the House will approve them.
House adjourned at 6.18 pm.