A gay couple from Barnsley have described their shock and dismay at a 'legal bombshell' that has left them considering legal proceedings, after they were told they must end their civil partnership to be eligible for a same-sex marriage ceremony.
The couple are threatening to take legal action over the controversial rule that means their civil partnership will have be dissolved before they are able wed under the forthcoming Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
The couple had previously thought that they would be able to convert their five-year-old civil partnership into a same-sex marriage when the Act comes into place on 29 March. But now they have been advised that to be recognised as a same-sex marriage, they must first end their current civil partnership; effectively the same as filing for a divorce.
Having spent a long time planning their big day, the couple have gone to many lengths to ensure that their wedding day will be extra special. This has included the ordering of suits and a wedding cake. But now, the news has thrown fresh doubt over the entire occasion, with the couple refusing to end their existing happy relationship first. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson indicated that the details of converting civil partnerships into same-sex marriages have not yet been finalised. To add further disappointment, it was suggested that this issue may not even be resolved this year.
The statement said: "We are continuing to work hard to ensure that couples wanting to convert their civil partnerships into marriages are able to do so as soon as possible. We aim to do this before the end of 2014."
The spokesperson claimed that introducing new policies and procedures would mean the process would take longer than first thought, adding: "This contrasts with the work to make new marriages for same-sex couples possible, where we have been able to build on existing processes so implementation is more straightforward."
The news will undoubtedly cause concern for many other couples currently in civil partnerships, with the indication that specific criteria must be met before they can apply for a civil partnership to be dissolved. These include unreasonable behaviour, two years desertion and separation for either two years or five years (with or without the consent of the respondent respectively).
In a strongly worded statement, the couple condemned their situation, saying that in order to dissolve their partnership they would be effectively committing "perjury". They said: "We're being penalised because we're already in a civil partnership. No couple should be asked to divorce or dissolve to be able to get married. To dissolve a civil partnership, you have to go to court, and you have to have a valid reason. Wanting to get married is hardly a valid reason to dissolve a civil partnership."
They went on to suggest that the rule demonstrates a case of inequality, and that a divorce or separation would present legal difficulties and practical hardships. "If our civil partnership were dissolved there would be a period of time when we would not be each other's next of kin, for example," the couple said.
The couple are now trying to raise awareness of their situation to help same-sex couples that are in a similar position. K J Smith Solicitors have many years of experience in dealing with a wide range of legal matters relating to civil partnerships. For more information, contact our team of family solicitors today on contact us today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).