Gay Marriage – What Difference Does it Make?

5 June, 2013

The Marriage Bill is winding its way gradually through parliament, with headlines at every turn. Essentially, if passed, it will allow those in a same sex relationship to become married. Clearly it raises important philosophical questions of the nature and definition of marriage that many people hold dear. In practice, however, will it make any difference to our lives? The answer could be, for the most part, that it will not.

When the current definition of marriage was established by the English courts during the 1870s, it was illegal to be homosexual. Our society has evolved since then. The criminal prohibition was removed in England and Wales in 1967. Greater legal rights and equality for the gay community were granted in the following decades and, in 2005, civil partnerships were allowed for the first time.

There are a few differences between traditional marriage and a civil partnership, such as the absence of the concept of adultery for the purpose of dissolution and certain rights in respect of pensions that are not so broad. However, in many legal respects, a civil partnership has all the same legal effect as a marriage. To that extent, therefore, this new reform would only allow us to formally refer to a registered same sex relationship as a marriage as we have always done for a registered heterosexual relationship.

The importance of this proposed law should not, however, be underestimated as it would certainly redefine hundreds of years of legal tradition. Opinion is clearly divided as to whether that is a good thing, but parliament is continuing its debates in the full glare of media publicity and, if the measure is passed, the term “marriage” will denote registered relationships that are both straight and gay.