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England & Wales marriage bill progresses to final stage

 We’re happy to report that the marriage bill for England and Wales, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, last night passed its report stage in the House of Lords.

There is just one more stage left – the third reading, next Monday. The bill then returns to the Commons to see if they agree with the Lords’ amendments. Since all those amendments have been government amendments, it is virtually certain that the Commons and Lords will agree very quickly on the form of the amendments.

We therefore anticipate that the bill is likely to pass next week. It takes some time to put in place the secondary legislation that is also needed, so we would expect same-sex marriages in England and Wales to start in 2014. Gender recognition without dissolution of marriage, for people who married in England or Wales or outwith the UK, will become available at the same time.

There are some outstanding issues with the bill, including around gender recognition rules, pensions, and gender neutrality. It now looks like one of the outstanding issues may be reconsidered, and that is the issue of pension inequality. The bill allows private sector pension providers to pay a much lower survivor’s pension to a bereaved spouse in a same-sex marriage than to a bereaved spouse in a mixed-sex marriage. (A survivor’s pension is paid to the bereaved spouse by the pension scheme of the spouse who died.)

This will apply to Scotland also, because the regulation of private sector pensions is reserved to Westminster. So the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill can’t legislate to change this.

In yesterday’s debate, Lord Alli tried to amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill to remove this discrimination, by requiring private sector pension schemes to treat same-sex marriages equally with mixed-sex marriages.

The UK Government opposed the amendment, but did promise to discuss it further, stating their “firm intention” to amend the bill next Monday to provide for a review of the issue.

While not delivering equality now, a review would at least hold out the possibility of equal pension rules being put in place sometime in the future, before or after same-sex marriages start.

You can read yesterday’s Lords debate on this issue here.

 

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