Yes, it is finally here, the day when same-sex couples can be married in England and Wales.
On the 13th March the first same sex couple registered their intent to marry. On the same day, couples who were married in countries where same-sex marriage were already legal, are now recognised as being married in this country too. Congratulations to you all.
The first wedding is likely to be in Brighton, just down the road from the first Civil Partnerships that took place in 2005. In the first 7 years there were over 60,000 civil partnerships or gay weddings. Under the new legislation these will be “upgraded” to marriage, although the procedure has yet to be finalised.
So what is the difference between a civil partnership and a same-sex wedding?
In terms of the ceremony, a wedding is solemnised in words, whereas the civil partnership is registered by a signature. A wedding can be religious, if the religion has opted in to same sex weddings (Quakers, Liberal Jews, Unitarians and free Christians gave their support in 2012).
There are various differences in the actual registration of the marriage, the main one being that marriages are registered on paper and electronically, whilst civil partnerships are only registered electronically.
There are a number of legal and financial differences too, in terms of pension entitlements, the rights of the couple if they live abroad and the dissolution of the marriage/partnership. These are summarised here.
But the main difference for the gay couples is that society recognises marriage in a way that it doesn’t recognise a civil partnership. Marriage is part of the fabric of society and this change gives equality in the way same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are respected.
Apart from the legal differences, gay weddings will be different. A new set of traditions is likely to develop. For instance instead of the “I now pronounce you husband and wife” declaration at the end of the ceremony, couples may wish to write their own words. “I now pronounce you partners for life” has been suggested and has a certain ring to it.
Stag and hen dos, bridal parties and best man traditions are likely to evolve into something different, based more on friendship than on gender. Dressmakers and tailors are being asked for different types of bridal and grooms wear.
It is a very exciting time for same-sex couples who now know what they are planning for. There was a real buzz about the recent Gay Wedding Show, now in its 10th Year, and it seems that gay couples are looking for something a bit different for their weddings.