Most provisions of the Act came into effect on 13 March 2014. The first same sex marriages took place this weekend, as the law requires couples to wait at least 16 days after giving notice to the register office before getting married.
Amongst other matters, the Act provides:
- For references to marriage in existing legislation to be read as including same sex marriage. This means -for example- that same sex marriage will be included within the protected characteristic of "marriage and civil partnership" under the Equality Act 2010.
- For same sex marriages to take place by civil ceremony, or under religious rites where a religious organisation has opted in to the Act's provisions (except the Church of England and Church in Wales).
- That someone who changes their legal gender may do so without ending their existing marriage, where both parties to the marriage consent.
- For the recognition in England and Wales of same sex marriages entered into under the laws of other countries.
It is also expected that measures will be implemented before the end of the year to allow couples in a civil partnership the option of converting their partnership to a marriage.
There are provisions which limit the extent of the equivalence of same sex marriage in respect of certain pensions issues, though this is due to be the subject of a government review later this year. There will also be a review and consultation on the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act in due course, as well as a review into the conduct of marriages by non-religious belief organisations, such as humanists.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act applies in England and Wales. Separate legislation is being implemented in Scotland, but there are no proposals for equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland.