After the long battle to get same-sex marriage introduced in law in England and Wales, this month will see couples celebrate throughout the country as the first same-sex weddings in England and Wales take place on 29 March, 2014. Here's what all same-sex couples intending to marry need to know.
1. Register without delay to get your March wedding.
In order to be among the first to get married on the 29 March, 2014, couples will need to give notice of their intention to do so at their local register office by no later than 13 March ,2014, i.e. 16 days before the wedding day. They can only give notice at the register office if they have lived in that registration district for at least seven days prior to that. The fee for giving notice is £35 each and they will need to bring evidence of their name, age, nationality and address when attending the appointment.
2. Where to get married?
Couples will be able to get married at a register office or any venue approved by the local council such as hotels or places of interest. Unlike couples of the opposite sex getting married, same-sex weddings can only take place in religious premises where permission has been given by the specific religious organisation and the premises have also been approved by the local council. Couples will not be able to have same-sex weddings in an Anglican church but other religious couples should check with their own organisation to see whether their own religion will allow it.
3. Be aware of the legal consequences of marriage
Marriage is of course a commitment to your spouse for life, but also brings with it legal rights and responsibilities that any couple getting married should be aware of. These include issues such as next of kin, inheritance rights in the event of death, and various financial claims in the event of a divorce. Generally, those rights and responsibilities will be the same as for those opposite-sex couples who are married, although there are some differences including in relation to entitlement to pension benefits as well as on divorce (for instance, the fact of adultery on divorce is only available where someone has had sex outside of the marriage with someone of the opposite sex).
4. Have you considered a pre-nup?
While considered unromantic by some, pre-nuptial agreements are becoming increasingly popular, particularly amongst those who wish to protect any business or inherited assets obtained prior to the marriage. Whilst, unlike other countries, pre-marital agreements are not automatically binding, following the Supreme Court case of Radmacher v Granatino the Court is likely to give significant weight to it in the event of a dispute on divorce if they are considered appropriate. Pre-nups are likely to become even more popular following the Law Commission's call to make them legally binding if they meet the needs of the couple.
A word of warning, though: prenuptial agreements should generally be entered into well in advance of the wedding day to avoid claims that they were not willingly entered into, but if that is the case consider a post-nup instead. This is, as it sounds, like a pre-nup but one entered into after the wedding has taken place.
5. Converting a civil partnership into marriage
While the laws recently introduced will allow those currently in civil partnerships (until now the only legal relationship available to same-sex couples), the conversion process has yet to be finalised and it looks like this won't be in place until the end of the year at the earliest. This is apparently being legally challenged by one gay couple who want to be able to marry sooner than that, but it remains to be seen how successful that will be.
6. Moving overseas
With many couples moving from country to country, particularly if one or both of them are a foreign national, it's really important to find out whether your same-sex marriage will be recognised in the country you are moving to. This has already posed a problem to some couples in civil partnerships in countries that do not recognise them. If the country you are moving to has same-sex marriage already, then they should recognise a marriage obtained in England and Wales. If they do not, then it may be that they recognise it as akin to any formal legal relationship between same sex couples existing within that country, but always check what the position is as this can have serious consequences for issues such as next of kin, inheritance rights etc.
For those couples who are not sure that the institution of marriage is right for them, they will still be able to enter into civil partnerships, although for how much longer could be in doubt as the future of these is to be reviewed by the government this year. Meanwhile, those couples who are getting married this month will be cracking open the bubbly and no doubt celebrating both their future together and also this historic moment.