A gay couple in a civil partnership have found that legal hurdles are preventing them from marrying as quickly as they wished. Paul and Michael Atwal-Brice, from Thurnscoe, near Barnsley, have been told that they must dissolve their partnership before being permitted to marry – or else wait an indeterminate amount of time for new legal measures to be brought in.
The first same-sex marriages in the UK are set to occur this March. But the Atwal-Brices have received official advice that they might not be able to become a married couple until the end of the year.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed last summer, to widespread public and political approval. Though civil rights groups worldwide praised the move, some noted that there were still a number of legal questions left unanswered – some of which are being resolved only now.
Many couples who have already formed a civil partnership were hopeful that there would be some way for their existing relationship to be easily ‘upgraded’ to marriage.
However it appears that it will be a matter of months before this is the case.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture said: ‘We are continuing to work hard to ensure couples wanting to convert their civil partnerships into marriages can and are able to do so as soon as possible.
‘We aim to do this before the end of 2014. It will take a little longer because we need to introduce completely new procedures and processes.’
It appears as though Mr. and Mr. Atwal-Brice could actually have won the right to be married more quickly if they had not entered into a civil partnership at all.
That is, if both of them had been single already, there is no reason to suppose they could not be married this March.
By taking advantage of a legal right granted to them in 2004, the Atwal-Brices have unwittingly placed themselves at a disadvantage.
Though some details of their dilemma are still unclear, it appears they have two choices if they wish to become a married couple.
They may wait for the government to implement its new procedures – so it will be somewhat longer than they anticipated before they may enjoy the same rights as other heterosexual and homosexual couples.
The other alternative is to dissolve their partnership and marry sooner. But this is a course of action with which they have a right to be uncomfortable. Why should a happy, stable couple be compelled to break up?
As Paul Atwal-Brice told Gay Star News: ‘To dissolve a civil partnership, you have to go to court, and you have to have a valid reason. Wanting to stay together and be married is hardly a valid reason to dissolve a civil partnership.’
What’s more, even by proceeding with dissolution immediately, the couple will still not be able to register for marriage in time for the 29th of March 2014 – the date of the first marriages.