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“People I love who were in monogamous same-sex relationships explained to me what I should have understood earlier. Which is that it was not simply about legal rights but about a sense of stigma. If you're calling it something different, it means that somehow it means less in the eyes of society.” - President Obama speaking on same-sex marriage in London April 2016.

While a controversial topic which has been widely followed, discussed and debated in both society and the media, same-sex marriage is now legal throughout England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. The legislation has been hailed by many for its progressive step towards equal rights and is supported by high-profile celebrities in same-sex marriages, such as Sir Elton John, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Derren Brown, and Clare Balding.

Believing that we should not prevent couples from marrying unless there are very good reasons – and that loving someone of the same sex is not one of them – the Government passed The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 on July 17th. Just after midnight on March 29th 2014, the first legal same-sex marriages took place across the country.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage follows the initial introduction of Civil Partnerships in the UK in 2005. Civil Partnerships are legally registered relationships which give same-sex couples the same legal rights to those of a married couple in areas such as tax, pensions and the right to apply for parental responsibility for a partner's child. However, although a legally recognised relationship, a Civil Partnership is not a marriage.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed according to the Government's belief that opening up marriage to all couples demonstrates society's respect for all individuals, regardless of their sexuality, making our society fairer and more inclusive for all of its members. However, the Act does still respect those religious organisations who may not agree with the marriage by protecting those such organisations and their representatives from successful legal challenge.

According to the results of an Oxford University study published earlier this year, attitudes towards same-sex marriage are much more tolerant than they were in the late 1980s. The paper explains that 'changes in legislation have generally forged ahead of public opinion' and the law's 'moral authority' may have caused a change in attitudes. The paper also shows that more women than men choose to have a same-sex wedding and that most same-sex weddings to have taken place were between couples who were already in a Civil Partnership but 'converted' to a marriage.

So what does The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 mean?

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 makes the marriage of same sex couples lawful in England and Wales, while also protecting and promoting religious freedom. It allows:

 Same sex couples to marry in Civil Ceremonies
 Same sex couples to marry in religious ceremonies where the religious organisation has 'opted in' to conduct such ceremonies and the Minister of religion agrees

The Act also:

 Protects those religious organisations and their representatives who don't wish to conduct marriages of same sex couples from successful legal challenge
 Enables civil partners to convert their Partnership into a marriage, if they wish and,
 Enables married individuals to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage.

Quick Facts

Although now legal in the majority of the UK, same-sex marriages are also legal in: Belgium; Spain; Canada; South Africa; Norway; Sweden; Portugal; Iceland; Argentina; Brazil; France; Uruguay; Luxembourg; and Colombia.

It is also legal in some parts of: Denmark; Mexico; the Netherlands; New Zealand the United States. The law in Finland is expected to take effect on March 1st 2017.

The Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001.

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