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From March this year, gay couples were able to legally marry in the UK which is considered a welcome step towards them achieving equality.
However, for many couples already in civil partnerships who wish to ‘upgrade’ their civil partnership to a marriage, the happiness at this step forward has been clouded with disappointment. Although it will be possible to convert a civil partnership to a marriage, this will not be until December 2014.
This means that if any couples currently in a civil partnership wish to enter into a marriage with each other before the end of 2014, they will first have to dissolve their civil partnership. Dissolution of a civil partnership is only possible on grounds of unreasonable behaviour, two years’ desertion, two year’s separation (with consent of the respondent), or five years’ separation (without the consent of the respondent). Some couples have argued that as they cannot cite their wish to marry each other as a legitimate reason to dissolve their civil partnership, they are left with no choice but to wait for the conversion procedures to be finalised, or to dissolve their civil partnership, which they say would necessitate them to commit perjury if they have to cite their partner’s unreasonable behaviour.
In addition to causing much personal anguish for gay couples, some have argued that if people do opt to dissolve their civil partnership so as to marry as soon as possible, there will be a gap in their legal relationship for the period between the dissolution and their eventual remarriage. As a result of this, it has been argued that in approving the gay marriage bill without all of the procedures in place to deal with the conversion of civil partnerships to marriages, the government has not properly taken account of all of the relevant factors, which has resulted in a breach of some people’s human rights. The Government has provided assurances that once the conversion procedures have been finalised, there will “not [be a] break in the couple’s legal relationship which could have implications for matters such as pension entitlements”.
For many, the delay in finalising the conversion procedure is unsatisfactory and it has been reported that some couples are preparing to bring a legal claim against the government in respect of this.