Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Rob Goldspink (MB 14)

Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Bill – conversion of civil partnerships – place of registration

1. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, but not in Wales, marriage law is a devolved matter; civil partnerships, however, were established in each of the jurisdictions by Parliament in Westminster under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, albeit by different Parts of the Act, and acting with the consent of the legislative bodies of those jurisdictions.

2. Accordingly, the Bill only seeks to introduce marriage for same-sex couples in England and Wales [cl. 17(1)]. However, in seeking to respect the devolution settlement, a group of people appears to be inappropriately hard done by.

3. Unmarried people / non-civil partners who are resident in England or Wales are able to marry under the provisions of the Bill. Existing civil partners who are resident in England or Wales are able to have their civil partnership converted to marriage [cl. 9], backdated to the date of their civil partnership [cl. 9(7)]. This only applies, however, to those whose civil partnership was registered in England or Wales [cl.9(1)].

4. Respecting the devolution settlement means that the decision not to allow residents of Northern Ireland or Scotland to convert their civil partnership to marriage is inevitable.

5. However, people whose civil partnership was registered in Scotland or Northern Ireland are prevented by the Bill from converting their civil partnership to marriage, even if they are resident in England or Wales, and have been for several years. The only route to marriage for these people would appear to be to dissolve their civil partnership, with all the difficulties and heartache that that, and the lack of continuity, entails.

6. Given that there was a significantly higher number of people registering their civil partnerships in the 12 months after their introduction, there may well be a number of people who found themselves living, temporarily, in Northern Ireland when civil partnerships were introduced, and wished to avail themselves of the opportunity to have their relationship recognised by society as soon as possible. Those people, if now resident in England or Wales, will be amongst the group to whom marriage will be forbidden without dissolving their civil partnership.

7. I cannot believe that this is what the drafters intended.

February 2013

Prepared 15th February 2013