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How does the Scottish marriage bill compare to the England & Wales legislation?

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 will introduce same-sex marriage in England and Wales. It was passed by the Westminster Parliament on 16th July 2013. Parts of the Act, allowing same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales, will come into effect in March 2014. Other parts, including allowing gender recognition without divorce for people who married in England and Wales, are expected to come into effect later in 2014.

Is the Scottish Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill simply a Scottish copy of the England / Wales Act? The answer is no, although the main effects of the two are similar. The development of the Scottish bill started first, and because Scottish marriage law is very different from the law south of the border, the Scottish bill is technically different, and has some significant differences in effect.

Here are some of the practical differences:

  • The Scottish bill provides for belief organisations (eg, the Humanist Society of Scotland) to conduct mixed-sex marriages, same-sex marriages and/or civil partnerships. In England & Wales, there are no humanist marriages, but there will be a review of the possibility of allowing this, scheduled to report at the end of 2014.
  • The Scottish bill provides for religious or belief civil partnership ceremonies. In England & Wales, religious civil partnership ceremonies are already available, but usually a civil registrar has to attend the ceremony to deal with the signing of the documents. In Scotland, the religious or belief celebrant will conduct the whole ceremony, including the signing of the documents.
  • In Scotland, same-sex marriages will be available from age 16 without parental consent (like mixed-sex marriages and civil partnerships are). In England & Wales, parental consent is needed to marry or enter a civil partnership aged 16 or 17.
  • In Scotland there will be two ways to change an existing civil partnership to a marriage: by submitting a form, or by marrying in the usual way (in a civil ceremony or a religious/belief ceremony from an organisation that chooses to conduct same-sex marriages). In England & Wales, the second is not available, although there may be an optional civil ceremony available to mark the change, from a registrar.
  • The Scottish bill provides a route for gender recognition for a person in a civil partnership, changing the civil partnership to a marriage, all in one step. The legislation in England & Wales requires a two-step process: convert the civil partnership to a same-sex marriage, and then gender recognition can be  granted.