Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Consular Marriages and Marriages under Foreign Law Order 2014 — Motions to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 27th February 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Lords Spokesperson (Women & Equalities), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development) 6:00 pm, 27th February 2014

My Lords, I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I thank the noble Lords for their tributes, their thanks and, above all, for working together on this. It has been incredibly heart-warming to work on this Act and to be taking through these SIs now. As my noble friend Lady Barker has said, what a joy it was to wear the pink carnations of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and to go outside and be serenaded by the London Gay Men’s Chorus. It really was a tremendous joy. Extending marriage to same-sex couples is about righting a historical unfairness. The principles and arguments for doing this have already been fully debated and supported by both Houses and the Act is on the statute book.

Noble Lords will remember that there were majorities for this legislation in every group in this House. My noble friend Lord Jenkin reminded us of that. They may also remember—I analysed it at the time—that there was a very interesting gender difference in our voting patterns. Among women who voted at Second Reading, 83% thought that the Bill should proceed, while 17% dissented. May I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that he consider us all as bridesmaids? I am sure we would enjoy it.

I noted the generosity of spirit that was shown, especially in the later stages of the Bill, by those for whom this legislation was a very difficult challenge. I commend them for that generosity of spirit. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alli, said in this regard and what the right reverend Prelate has just said.

As I made clear, I hope, when I introduced this debate, these orders simply implement the decisions we made during the passage of the Act. They make sensible arrangements for the treatment of marriages of same-sex couples in a range of legislation. I went over the details in my introduction.

I shall address some of the points made by noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked me to provide more detail on what processes and procedures are required before couples can convert their civil partnership into marriage, and I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about his husband’s anxiety that we proceed extremely speedily. Briefly, the procedures and processes that we are looking at are changing various IT systems used by the General Register Office. I realise that this is not very romantic information, and neither are the other bits here. There is also delivering guidance and training to operational staff for making legislative changes and designing new application forms and certificates. Although these things are under way, I know that noble Lords will appreciate that they all take time. The conversion process will ensure that the rights and responsibilities of a couple in a civil partnership are protected—so do not get divorced—when they convert their relationship into a marriage. The effect of the conversion will be that they will be treated as if their marriage started on the date that their civil partnership was formed, although it sounds as if the noble Lord may be celebrating two dates in future. This is important for the couple, so we need to ensure that the new legal and administrative arrangements work properly.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked whether further orders will be required. I can confirm that various further pieces of secondary legislation will be required. I am sure that noble Lords look forward to discussing them.

My noble friend asked about delays and about when people in a civil partnership die before they have managed to convert their relationship into a marriage. We completely understand that couples in this difficult situation want to be able to fulfil their dream of being married, and we are working hard to make that possible as soon as we can. I remind my noble friend that the legal rights of such couples are assured by their civil partnership, so there will be no practical detriment to them by being civil partners rather than a married couple. However, we hear what noble Lords had to say. We are glad that they are pleased that we have managed to bring forward this date, and we are working very speedily to address the other issues. I will certainly feed back the points that noble Lords have made, especially the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that he needs to know what the date might be.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked a number of questions, and I am very grateful to her for flagging to me in advance the areas that she wanted to probe. She asked about pensions and, in particular, the review of survivor benefits that I mentioned in my introductory remarks. I can confirm that the review is under way and the terms of reference have been published in the Libraries of both Houses. The Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury are assessing the costs involved with any changes to the arrangements in public service and private occupational schemes. I spoke to my honourable friend Steve Webb about this the other day. They are also making arrangements to consult external stakeholders in line with the requirements of the Act. I assure the noble Baroness that these stakeholders will include representatives of the LGB community and trade unions as well as pension trustees, industry bodies and parliamentarians with a key interest in this review. We are continuing to make arrangements over the next few weeks so that the consultation begins in March. There are a number of issues that it needs to cover and a final report will be published on 1 July. We note the interest of the noble Baroness in this.

The legislation does not require a full public consultation, so we have not made additional plans for publication via the website. I am happy to feed back the concerns of noble Lords to the Treasury and DWP.

The noble Baroness asked about the implications of a particular case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. On 18 February, the tribunal upheld the appeal and accepted the Government’s submission that the framework directive did not have retrospective effect in relation to employment and pension rights accrued before the directive came into force. In this particular instance it is open to Mr Walker to apply for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. I am happy to write to the noble Baroness with any further details if that would help.

The noble Baroness also asked about a transgender person who might seek to marry in Scotland and whether they would be subject to a “spousal veto” when applying for gender recognition. She flagged up a difference in the Scottish legislation. She asked whether a couple whose marriage was registered in Scotland but who subsequently lived in England would be able to apply to the sheriff court for their interim gender recognition certificate and whether we would review that area. From the outset I will be clear that there is no spousal veto in the Act that we passed. Regardless of a spouse’s views, all applicants will be able to obtain their gender recognition. The Scottish system will work in a very similar way to the English system in most respects: couples who wish to stay together following gender recognition will each need to complete statutory declarations to that effect. If a statutory declaration is not received from the non-trans spouse, the gender recognition panel will issue an interim gender recognition certificate, which will enable proceedings to be brought to end the marriage.

However, the Scottish Act differs from our own Act in that applicants in a marriage registered in Scotland will have the option of applying to the sheriff court for their full gender recognition certificate before their marriage has ended. Applicants in England and Wales will have to wait until their marriage is ended to obtain their full certificate. In those circumstances there will be no automatic entitlement to a new marriage certificate and the non-trans spouse will be able to use the issue of the interim gender recognition as a ground for divorce indefinitely.

Jurisdiction in matrimonial proceedings depends primarily on whether a couple is able to establish the necessary connection with the country in which the couple is applying. In England and Wales the jurisdiction rules are set out in the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973, as amended by the 2013 Act. In every case it will depend on the couple’s circumstances as to which court will have the jurisdiction to hear the proceedings. Following implementation of our Act, I assure the noble Baroness that we have committed to monitor the position and we will continue to consider very carefully any further evidence that trans-stakeholders and, indeed, anyone else affected provides.

The noble Baroness asked me about a situation that may arise in Scotland in which civil partnerships or civil unions established in a foreign country are converted to a marriage in Scotland and whether they will be recognised as marriages in England and Wales. The Scottish Government will be consulting on this issue and we will of course work very closely with them to ensure that the law across the UK is coherent and help them to implement their own Bill. It is too soon to anticipate what may happen as a result of that.

The noble Baroness also asked about guidance and training in support of the Act. A wide range of public and internal staff guidance is being produced by various organisations, including the General Register Office, the Department for Work and Pensions and NGOs such as the Equality and Human

Rights Commission, Stonewall and Citizens Advice. The guidance covers a range of practical, legal, operational and other issues and is aimed at a variety of audiences. We are confident that there will be sufficient information for those wishing to marry, register buildings, appoint authorised persons and so on, to find out what they need to know. For example, the General Register Office has produced and is producing a variety of guidance and training materials in different formats for registration staff in local authorities, in addition to information and guidance on how to register buildings to faith groups and the public. I pay tribute to Ben Summerskill, as did the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for his indomitable work in that area. Stonewall has produced guidance for same-sex couples considering marriage and converting their civil partnership to a marriage, which covers their rights and responsibilities and the steps that they need to take when arranging a marriage, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission will also produce a range of guidance. I hope that the husband of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will find all those pieces of paper useful.

Finally, on military chapels, the noble Baroness asked me if it is possible for a veto to be exercised as regards what happens within a military chapel for a same-sex couple. With the exception of chapels which are consecrated, the Secretary of State must be able to exercise their discretion, so there can be no absolute power of veto over the decision on registration. However, the regulations are clear as to the matters to which the Secretary of State must have clear regard. Important considerations will be the views of the religious organisations that are significant regular users of the chapel, and the availability of a chaplain who is willing to conduct the wedding of a same-sex couple and who belongs to a religious organisation that has opted in. Currently, none of the religious organisations that license chaplains to serve with the Armed Forces has announced its intention to opt into the marriage of same-sex couples. The 2013 Act is clear in requiring the consent of both the religious organisation whose rites would be used and the minister of religion involved.

In drawing to a close I will return to the reasons we so overwhelmingly agreed the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act last year. The removal of the final barrier to full legislative equality for lesbian and gay people by giving them access to the institution of marriage is a moment we can all be proud to have been part of—and that has certainly been echoed today. We have done this in a way which protects and promotes the religious freedom of those who believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and of that we can also be proud. I am confident that it will not be long before we look back on this moment and wonder why we waited so long. Listening to my noble friend Lord Paddick makes that even clearer.

Enabling same-sex couples to marry will not only bring fulfilment and joy to thousands of couples and their friends and families but is also a clear demonstration that Britain is a fair and inclusive place, where everyone has equal value. The noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Collins, and the right reverend Prelate are right to highlight the contrast with the situation in some countries around the world. We should treasure the freedoms that we have and be ever vigilant as we seek to support those who are less fortunate around the world. These statutory instruments are necessary to make marriage of same-sex couples a reality, and I hope the House will approve them.

Motions agreed.