As midnight struck in England and Wales last night same-sex marriage became legal. The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force in July last year but it was not until 13 March this year when couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time.
On 13 March, the law in England and Wales changed to recognise same-sex marriages performed overseas. Academics Sue Wilkinson, 60, and Celia Kitzinger, 57, married in Canada in 2003 and fought for eight years to have their union recognised here. Senior judges in London ruled that their overseas marriage was unable to be recognised.
However, due to the change in the law, their marriage became legally binding at one minute past midnight on 13 March.
Prime Minister David Cameron wrote earlier this week that “This weekend is an important moment for our country..It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth.” Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg comended that “If our change to the law means a single young man or young woman who wants to come out, but who is scared of what the world will say, now feels safer, stronger, taller – well, for me, getting into coalition government will have been worth it just for that.”
In anticipation of the new law, many couples planned to marry at midnight. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell (pictured above) acted as chief witness at a ceremony at Islington Town Hall in North London just after midnight as Peter McGraith and David Cabreza were wed after 17 years together.
Following their nuptials being exchanged Mr McGraith said “Very few countries afford their gay and lesbian citizens equal marriage rights and we believe that this change in law will bring hope and strength to gay men and lesbians in Nigeria, Uganda, Russia, India and elsewhere, who lack basic equality and are being criminalised for their sexual orientation.”
Mr Tatchell said the new law “made Britain a more tolerant, equal place” and that “The legalisation of same-sex marriage ends the last major legal discrimination against gay people in England and Wales…Same-sex marriage is an unstoppable global trend because love and commitment are universal human traits, regardless of sexual orientation or nationality. No ignorance or prejudice can hold back the triumph of love.”
Scotland passed a similar law earlier this year in February which is expected to come into force in October. At present Northern Ireland has no plans to make same-sex marriage legal.