The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a.k.a. the UK, United Kingdom (UK), and Britain. The term "Great Britain" refers to the main island which includes England, Wales and Scotland.
The path towards marriage equality in England and Wales:
During the 2010's, England and Wales appear to be moving rapidly towards the legalization of same-sex marriage. Scotland, although part of the UK, has been given control over its marriages and was separately advancing towards marriage for same-sex couples. There are no plans for such legislation in Northern Ireland. 3 Although Scotland is part of the UK, it has been granted limited self-government. These powers include the definition of who is eligible to be married. Thus, the following section deals only with the recognition of same-sex relationships in England, and Wales. Same-sex marriage in Scotland is discussed in a separate essay.
The path towards full legal equality for gays, lesbians and bisexuals who form loving, committed same-sex couples in the
UK started in the 1960s with the decriminalization of same-sex sexual behavior.
The effort was almost completed by the end of 2005 when same-sex couples became able to enter into civil partnerships. All that was lacking was a change to the law that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.
In terms of rights, civil partnerships are virtually
indistinguishable from opposite-sex marriages, in that they grant essentially the same rights, obligations and privileges to the couple. However, they are called by the name "civil partnerships" in
order to avoid offending those who feel that marriage should be a special right
restricted to opposite-sex couples. To many same-sex couples, being able to call their relationship a marriage is the most important right that they seek.
By mid-2009, public support for same-sex marriage (SSM) had reached 61% while opposition dropped to 33%. By late 2010, the ratio of support to opposition is probably approaching 2:1. Politicians were discussing changing the definition of marriage to allow all loving committed couples to marry. Meanwhile, a lawsuit was planned to make available marriage for same-sex couples through the courts.
On 2011-FEB-14, Valentine's Day, the following announcement appeared in our local newspaper in Kingston, ON, Canada:
"Government to allow gay church marriage: British media reported Sunday the government is preparing to erase some of the last remaining distinctions between gay partnership and traditional marriage -- allowing gay couples to tie the knot in churches in ceremonies that may be officially known as marriages."
"Marriage and civil partnership are already virtually identical under British law, but because same-sex unions are carried out by government registrars, the ceremony must take place in a public building and religious references are banned."
As in every other country that has legalized same-sex marriages, the denominations, congregations and/or clergy will have the ultimate say in whether they will allow same-sex marriages in their religious facilities. Religious freedom allows them to freely engage in religious discrimination if they wish. However, if developments in the U.S. are any indication of the future of SSM in the UK, then church members and leaders will be concerned that the general public will consider religiously-based discrimination based on sexual orientation to be a form of bigotry similar to racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Rejection of SSM by faith groups in the U.S. is one of the causes of their current massive loss of older teen and young adult members.
During 2013-FEB-05, a bill to legalize SSM in England and Wales passed second reading by overwhelming vote in the House of Commons:
During 2013-FEB-13, Peter Smith, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, and the vice-president of the Catholic Bishops‚ Conference of England and Wales, testified before the committee of Members of Parliament who are working on the next stage of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) bill. He said that while marriage equality may be an inevitability, "it does not mean we approve." (More information)
During 2013-JUL, the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) Act was approved by the House of Lords. Differences between the House of Commons' and House of Lords' versions of the bill were resolved and the bill received Royal Assent, thus becoming law.
Marriage equality comes to England, Wales, and Scotland, but not to N. Ireland yet:
Same-sex couples were able to register to marry starting on 2014-MAR-13. They were able to have their marriages solemnized starting on Saturday, 2014-MAR-29. 5
On the day of the first marriages, a lone demonstrator in front of Westminster Abbey held up an inaccurate sign with the words "Men cannot marry men." Actually, starting on that day, they could.
The new legislation also resulted in England and Wales recognizing same-sex marriages solemnized in other countries.
A procedure for converting existing civil partnerships to marriages in England and Wales was in place by late 2014. 5
Scottish same-sex couples in partnerships were able to upgrade their relationships to marriage starting in 2014-DEC-16. Engaged couples in Scotland will be able to obtain marriage licenses on 2014-DEC-31