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Gay marriage and civil partnerships in the UK

Wondering about the legal requirements for same sex marriage and civil partnerships in the UK? We explain it all

Same sex couples have two options to legally recognise their relationship: civil partnership, and marriage.

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Marriage for same sex couples is not currently legal in Northern Ireland, and if you are married in another jurisdiction, it will be treated as a civil partnership inside its borders.

So what works for you: civil partnership or marriage?

Here’s everything you need to know about both options.

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Who can get married or enter in a civil partnership?

Both parties must be single and over the age of 16. If one of you is under 18, you will need parental approval.

You can form a civil partnership in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but you can only get married in England, Scotland and Wales.

What is the difference between marriage and civil partnership?

A civil partnership gives you the same legal rights as a heterosexual married couple in respect of pension rights, house ownership, inheritance issues and making ‘next of kin’ decisions in hospital. There are some subtle differences:

  • It’s not compulsory to have a ceremony to form a civil partnership; you just have to sign the civil partnerships document. Of course, you can choose to have a ceremony to celebrate your civil partnership – perhaps a humanist ceremony.
  • Civil partnerships are not recognised everywhere in the world.
  • Adultery doesn’t count as grounds for ending a civil partnership.
  • Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties; marriage certificates still only contain the father’s name.

You can download a detailed list of comparisons from the Gov.uk website.

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Photo | Getty

How to get married if you’re a same sex couple

The legal steps for having a civil wedding ceremony are the same for all couples, and you can find our complete guide here, including how to give notice.

In order to give notice, you need to have decided where you’re getting married. Your notice of marriage will only be valid for the venue you put on the notice – if you change venue, you’ll have to start the process (and pay) all over again. In England and Wales, not all registered venues have a licence for civil ceremonies, so you will need to check with that it’s on the approved premises list first. It may be that you need to have your ceremony and reception in different places.

What does the civil marriage ceremony involve?

The ceremony is the same for all couples, same sex and heterosexual, with the same legal requirements. There are two pieces of compulsory wording – the Declatory and the Contracting words. These are:

“I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I [name] may not be joined in matrimony to [name].”

“I call upon these persons here present, to witness that I [name] do take thee [name] to be my lawful wedded wife / wife-husband / husband.”

There are a couple of legal variations on these – ask your registrar for more details.

Can same sex couples have a religious ceremony?

You can’t currently get married in the Church of England or the Church of Wales. However, certain religious organisations do allow same sex marriages to take place, so it’s worth checking with your local place of worship.

Gay wedding ceremony celebration party

How to form a civil partnership

As with marriages, you must give at least 28 full days’ notice to your local register office for civil partnerships. The notice will be displayed for 28 days at the register office. You will then sign a civil partnership document in front of a registrar and two witnesses.

You may still need to give notice in the UK if you plan on forming a civil partnership abroad, so ask the authorities where you are getting married how best to proceed. After giving notice you have to register your civil partnership within one year (only three months if you’re in Scotland).

The Citizens Advice Bureau has in-depth advice on how to register your civil partnership.

Documents to bring

The documents are the same as with a marriage, i.e., proof of your name, age and nationality. This may include a valid passport, birth certificate, national identity card from the EEA or Switzerland (if non-British), certificate of registration, certificate of neutralisation, biometric residence card or permit, travel document.

If you’ve changed your name, you must also bring proof of that, for example a deed poll.

You will also need to bring proof of address, for example a valid UK or EEA driving licence, gas or electricity bill from the last 3 months, a bank statement from the last month, or a council tax bill or mortgage settlement from the last 12 months.

If you’ve been married or in a civil partnership before, you need to take either a decree absolute or final order, or the death certificate of your former partner if you are widowed.

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Converting civil partnerships into marriage

Are you in a civil partnership but want to convert it into a marriage now that same sex marriages are legal? You are allowed to do so in England, Wales and Scotland (different rules, see below), but not in Northern Ireland.

Either you can simply book an appointment at a register office and sign a legal declaration; or you can follow the signing of this legal declaration with a ceremony.

How much does it cost to convert a civil partnership in England and Wales?

You will need to pay £4 for a marriage certificate, £45 for the conversion and £27 for an appointment if you’re having a ceremony. The cost of the ceremony itself depends on the venue.

How to convert with a ceremony

You will need to contact a registered venue and book a date for your ceremony.

How to I change my civil partnership into a marriage in Scotland?

In Scotland, you can do this either by going the administrative route, or by ceremony.

For the admin side of things, you need to make an appointment with your local registrar for the date you want the change to take place. You then need to complete the sections 1-12 of the prescribed application form (find it here).

Then you will go to the registration office, where you will need to provide an extract from the entry in the civil partnership register relating to your civil partnership, and photographic evidence of your ID. You will then both sign the application form at section 13 in the presence of each other and the registrar. The registrar will prepare an entry in the marriage register and you can obtain a marriage certificate.

You can also change your partnership by having a civil, religious or belief ceremony. You can find more info here.

How much does it cost?

You will pay a statutory fee of £30, plus £10 for a copy of the marriage certificate, and the cost of the ceremony (if having one) will vary.

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Looking for more inspiration? Check out some of our favourite same sex wedding photos.