Same-sex marriage - conversions and cross-border hazards

15 August 2014

The government recently released proposals for the conversion of civil partnerships to same-sex marriages, which have been available in England and Wales since Saturday 29 March 2014.   The plans mean that, from December this year, civil partners will be able to attend a register office to be issued with a “certificate of conversion” free of charge (although after 12 months it is proposed there will be a fee of £45).

Although we do now legally have equal marriage, it does seem as if civil partners (arguably the pioneers of same-sex marriage reforms) are getting the raw end of the deal.  Why should they not get a normal marriage certificate?  Many are concerned that the conversion certificates will not be recognised as readily and cannot understand the distinction.  Also, critics say the register office process, which would be desk-based without any formal ceremony, would dampen the significance of what is, for many, a ground-breaking and long awaited moment. Following the cabinet reshuffle, Nick Boles, the newly appointed minister with responsibility for implementing equal marriage, who is himself in a civil partnership, is now being bombarded with calls for amendments to the proposals.  So watch this space.

As of 3 June 2014, same-sex marriages are now also available at British Consulates in 24 countries including Australia, Russia and Japan.  The list is limited because British Consulates are only able to offer same-sex marriage ceremonies in countries where it is not possible for British nationals to enter into a same-sex marriage under local law and where the local authorities have given their permission.

Same-sex marriages and various forms of registered same-sex partnerships are becoming increasingly available around the world.  But when crossing borders as a same-sex couple, it is important to consider whether your partnership will be recognised in a new country.  The terminology varies, e.g. same-sex marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships etc., as do the formalities for registering the partnership, which can range from full-blown marriage ceremonies to the simple witnessing of signatures before a notary.  Crucially, the financial consequences for the couple on dissolution/divorce also vary greatly.  The variety of same-sex partnership regimes around the world and the jurisdiction-specific rules on recognition can also create strange anomalies.  For example, a couple could enter into a registered partnership in one country, move to another country where that form of partnership is not recognised, and then enter into a second form of partnership under a different regime, and so on.

It is important to remember though that the conversion process in England and Wales will only be available to couples who have entered into our domestic form of civil partnership.  Couples who have entered into foreign same-sex partnerships that we recognise will not currently be eligible to convert to a same-sex marriage here.

With this in mind, it’s important to seek advice early in these situations as the inter-play of international laws in cross-border situations is enough to leave anyone feeling jetlagged…

First published in Fyne Times on 12th August 2014.

Further information

To find out more about the issues raised in this post, please contact Lauren Evans or a member of our team.

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