Celebrating 10 years of same-sex marriage

Ten years ago, on 29 March 2014, Peter McGraith and David Cabreza became the first same-sex couple to get married in England & Wales. This was following the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which put marriage equality for the LGBTQ+ community on our statute books for the first time.

The movement to legalise same-sex marriage started to gain momentum at the turn of the millennium, with the Netherlands becoming the first country to change its laws in 2001. Since then, 35 more states, primarily in the US and Europe, have followed suit to recognise marriage for same-sex couples. Last month, Greece became the latest, and most notably is the first Christian Orthodox country to take this step, and Thailand is likely to be next after recently passing a (yet to be approved) same-sex marriage bill.

In terms of the wider legal framework, under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”), the right to family life, member states have a positive obligation to provide legal recognition for same-sex couples. However, the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) held in Schalk and Kopf v Austria in 2010 that there is no obligation to legally recognise same-sex marriages specifically under Article 12 ECHR (the right to marry). Despite the progress which has been made by legal challenges and lobbying, still less than half of the countries which are party to the ECHR have proceeded to legalise same-sex marriage. There is still a lot of work to be done, though very much assisted by shifting societal attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and strong public advocates. Gay icon, Dolly Parton perhaps said it best in 2014 – “I support gay marriage. They have every right to be as miserable as straight people.”

Since the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, according to the 2021 Census, over 260,000 individuals have entered into a same-sex marriage, including many well-publicised in the press, such as actor Stephen Fry, Olympic diver Tom Daley, and comedian Sandi Toksvig. Societal attitudes have continued to shift in a positive direction in the UK. When the law first received royal assent from the late Queen Elizabeth II, only 54% of Brits supported same-sex marriage. Now, ten years on, this is over 75%, showing an optimistic trajectory but highlighting the gap we must strive to close.
The legislation however did not only allow same-sex couples to get married, but also to convert their civil partnerships into marriages. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 specifically as a compromise for same-sex couples who wished to obtain the same rights, responsibilities, and protections which were enjoyed by opposite-sex couples through marriage. While civil partnerships at least allowed for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, as well as integrating same-sex couples and providing opportunities for families and communities to gather to celebrate queer relationships, the decision not to extend marriage to same-sex couples was criticised by the LGBTQ+ community for its perpetuation of otherness. Thus, after same-sex marriage finally became law, it is perhaps no surprise that almost 16,000 same-sex civil partnerships were converted to marriages.

The protection and appreciation of the family lives of LGBTQ+ individuals have continued to develop since 2014. In 2017, amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill made relationships and sex education (including LGBTQ+ inclusive education) mandatory in all schools in England & Wales, and in the same year the Supreme Court ruled that the discrimination against same-sex couples on pensions rights was unlawful. In 2023, 19% of adoptions of children in England involved same-sex couples, and together with the ever-increasing number of surrogacy arrangements, both domestic and overseas, more and more members of the LGBTQ+ community are becoming parents.

Megan Bacon-Evans and Whitney Bacon-Evans also succeeded in securing the same access to fertility treatment for same-sex couples as heterosexual couples on the NHS, ending their High Court legal challenge in 2023 and a two-year review.
While there is still a very long way to go before there is true equality, developments like the above help to raise the family lives of the queer community to be viewed and treated on a par with their straight, cisgender counterparts. On this anniversary, we celebrate all our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and long may the progress continue.

By Liam Hurren (associate) & Clara Parry (paralegal) in the Family & Divorce team at Kingsley Napley

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