A gay couple are considering suing the government after discovering that they will not be able to get married when same-sex marriage is introduced in March because they are in a civil partnership.
Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice, who have two children together and have been in a civil partnership since 2008, planned to be one of the first couples to marry when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act comes into force on 29 March of this year. However, according to The Guardian, they were horrified when they were informed that they would not be able to marry without first dissolving their civil partnership. What is the reason for this and what does it mean for same-sex couples such as the Atwal-Brices?
Although same-sex marriage has been approved by Parliament, the government has not yet finalised the process by which couples can turn their civil partnership into a marriage. Therefore as the law currently stands, should those in a civil partnership wish to “convert” their legal union into a marriage, they will first have to dissolve their partnership, which is the equivalent to a divorce, and then effectively “remarry.” The parties must have a valid reason for dissolution, and must also convince a judge of the same. Under s44(5) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, there are only three reasons or “facts” which can be relied upon to dissolve a civil partnership; unreasonable behaviour, two years’ separation with consent or five years’ separation.
The Atwal-Brices claim that this means that in order for them to get married they will effectively have to commit perjury to dissolve their civil partnership. They also have concerns about the implications that dissolution, however temporary, would have on their legal rights and obligations, both in relation to each other and their two adopted disabled sons. They say that they have spoken out to raise awareness as they believe that many other couples will also unexpectedly find themselves in a similar situation.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport say that that they are working hard to resolve this issue as soon as possible, but that implementation of a “conversion” mechanism will take longer than the introduction of same-sex marriage per se because of the need to formulate “completely new procedures and processes.” However, the Atwal-Brice’s solicitors have blasted the government for the “absurd” situation, claiming that it “just doesn’t seem to have been thought through.” They have written to DCMS arguing that the delay may in fact breach human rights and equality legislation, which could trigger an application for judicial review in the High Court.