6 Ways The UK Still Doesn’t Have Full Marriage Equality

Same-sex couples will be able to get married in England and Wales from Saturday. But there are still a few issues left to iron out.

1. Civil partnerships still cannot be converted to marriages.

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Same-sex couples who are already in a civil partnership will not be able to convert their relationship to marriage until later in 2014, while the government works out the official procedure for switching status.

Since civil partnerships can only be dissolved if both parties prove to the court that a relationship has broken down there is no way for couples to swiftly end their partnership and then remarry.

2. Northern Ireland has no plans to introduce same-sex marriages.

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England and Wales will have same-sex marriages ceremonies from Saturday, with Scotland due to follow later this year.

But Northern Ireland has held out and shows no sign of changing, with Democrat Unionist assembly members blocking marriage equality legislation at the devolved assembly.

There is little sign of this position changing in the short term, meaning that part of the U.K. will still only allow marriages between a man and a woman for some time to come.

The Republic of Ireland is set to hold a referendum on marriage equality in 2015, meaning Northern Ireland could soon become the only major part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is not allowed. (The Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey have also not passed same-sex marriage legislation.)

3. There will still be a spousal veto for married transgender people in England and Wales.

Scottish Trans / Via Twitter: @ScottishTrans

A clause in the England and Wales same-sex marriage bill requires the partner of a married transgender person to give written permission before a Gender Recognition Certificate be issued. This is a crucial piece of paper that restores some of an individual’s rights that are lost when an person changes gender in the eyes of the law.

This means that for the first time a couple can change their legal gender without having to end their marriage.

But if a trans individual’s partner refuses to give written permission then the trans individual is left in limbo. The only other way to gain a Gender Recognition Certificate is to get divorced, which can be drawn out and delay the restoration of basic rights.

The trans community has branded this clause the “spousal veto” and unsuccessfully campaigned to have it removed from the draft law as it made its way through the House of Commons.

Scotland has no spousal veto in its version of the legislation.

4. It’s legal to pay same-sex couples less pension income than straight couples if a partner dies.

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Many public sector pensions offer “survivor benefits” worth thousands of a pounds a year to spouses if the pensioner dies. Traditionally these benefits have been more generous to widows than widowers. When civil partnerships were created most pension schemes decided that all same-sex couples would receive the lower, widowers rate.

To make things worse for same-sex couples it is still legal to only consider pensions contributions from 2005 onwards when dealing with LGBT partners.

Peter Walker lost a recent test case on this issue after a tribunal decided that this stance is compatible with equality legislation. Walker claimed that his male partner would only receive £500 a year in the event of his death; if he had married a woman she would have been entitled to £41,000 a year.

This imbalanced arrangement will carry over from civil partnerships to same-sex marriages, although the government has said that it will review the rules.

5. Church of England premises are banned, for good.

Doc Brown / Via docbrown.info

Many religious groups, including the established Church of England, campaigned against same-sex marriage legislation. In return the government inserted a clause that ensures no “religious organisation or individual minister” can be compelled to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony.

Instead the legislation allows all religious groups the right to “opt-in” and offer same-sex marriages if they want to. Some groups, such as the Quakers, have chosen to do this. And if other religious groups change their stance on same-sex marriage at any point then they too will be able to conduct such ceremonies.

But due to their role as official established entities the Church of England and the Church of Wales were explicitly banned in the legislation from conducting such ceremonies. So even if the church leadership has a change of mind they will have to convince parliament to change the law. This means a lot of traditional wedding venues are ruled out for good.

6. Civil partnerships are still not available for straight couples.

OcusFocus/OcusFocus

There’s no sign that the government intends to allow heterosexual couples to have civil partnerships. But the option will be retained for same-sex couples only.

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