Monday, 6 June 2011

The complexity of marriage law

The subject of marriage and what is legal and what is not is getting increasingly more confusing, especially since a Liberal Jewish synagogue was in the news recently for performing a same-sex marriage (which is recognised by Liberal Judaism but not by the state). Apparently Scotland is just about to begin a process of consultation about same-sex marriage. So here's a list of what is and is not currently legal:

Legal (permitted by law and recognised by the state):
  • Opposite-sex church weddings (couple legally married and registered)
  • Same-sex civil partnerships in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Opposite-sex marriages in a register office / registered premises for weddings
The law allows, but there's no mechanism for implementing:
  • Religious civil partnerships (civil partnership ceremonies in a religious building)
Not forbidden by law, but not recognised by the state
  • same-sex blessings in a church / synagogue
  • same-sex marriages in a church / synagogue where the marriage is recognised by the church / synagogue  but not by the state
  • Pagan handfastings (weddings) in England & Wales - both same and opposite sex
  • Pagan same-sex handfastings in Scotland
  • Blessings of polyamorous relationships
Illegal (not permitted by law):
  • Same-sex church weddings (couple legally married and registered)
  • Opposite-sex civil partnerships in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Same-sex marriages in a register office / registered premises for weddings
  • Marrying more than one person
Another difficulty is that if a transsexual married to a person of the opposite sex to their original sex wants to change their birth certificate to reflect their new sex, they would have to divorce their partner (whereas if same sex marriage were legal, they could stay married).

Legal (permitted by law and recognised by the state) in Scotland only:
  • Pagan opposite-sex handfastings where the celebrant says the required form of words (the same as for all other legal weddings)
Have I missed anything?


  1. Thanks for starting this conversation off. I'm going to blog about this in a few days. Last week I went to a governrment consultation on civil partnership changes.

    In fact there is no such thing as "religious civil partnerships." Civil partnerships have to be non-religious, they can have no religious component, they have to be performed by a registrar, not a religious celebrant. None of this is proposed to change. All that will happen is that the BUILDING where this can happen can be a place of worship. It will still be a civil signing of a civil partnership, it's just that immediately afterwards /before you could have a religious ceremony.

    I don't think we Unitarians have actually worked out all of this. For me this a lot of fuss for a tiny change, that does not remove any of the institutional inequality.

    I think it's time we stopped messing about with this stuff and start campaigning clearly for marriage equality.

  2. I agree Stephen. I also think there should be a wider change in the law, as Pagans are currently massively disadvantaged by the current set-up.

    One change that has been suggested is that religious weddings of any kind would have no legal standing and everyone should go to register their marriage with the state separately. Personally I think that would be a retrograde step.

    Scotland has managed to recognise opposite-sex Pagan handfastings; why can't England?

    Of course Scottish Pagan celebrants want to do legal same-sex handfastings too, but they are not allowed to at the moment.

  3. I am really disappointed to hear that Stephen.The Devil is in the detail!And if that is all they are changing how come its taking so long? That's not what we want.We want to be able to marry same-sex couples in our churches and chapels- legally.This is looking like another example of state faith(Cof E) in action. And it has a dog in the manger element. 'We don't want to do them so no-one else can either'- grumpy!

  4. To be honest though, there is a similar separation between the signing of the register and the actual religious marriage ceremony in an opposite-sex marriage.

    But I agree that it would be better to campaign for same-sex marriage and not faff about with civil partnerships any longer.