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When were same-sex marriages made legal in England and Wales?

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Long-awaited by same-sex couples, same-sex marriage has now been legal in England and Wales for almost a decade. This momentous change to legislation has allowed thousands of same-sex marriages to be officiated since the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 was introduced.

Want to find out more about same-sex marriage and what these legal changes mean to you?

To discover more about the law surrounding same-sex marriage in England and Wales, including the exact date the act was introduced and what it allows, carry on reading.

Below, you’ll find everything you could need to know about same-sex marriage and divorce from the experienced Family Team at Wilson Browne Solicitors.

What is meant by same-sex marriage?

Same-sex marriage (made legal in England and Wales by the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013) is quite simply the marriage between two people with the same sex and/or gender identity. For example, marriages between two men or two women.

It is estimated that 6,728 same-sex marriages were conducted in 2019. It’s also worth noting, however, that 822 divorces among same-sex couples were recorded in the same year.

What does the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales allow?

The key provisions of the legislation includes:

  • Same-sex couples are able to get married in England and Wales
  • Such marriages are the same as marriages between a man and a woman under the law of England and Wales
  • Permits the marriage of same-sex couples by way of a civil ceremony
  • Permits the marriage of same-sex couples according to religious rites and usages where a religious organisation has opted into that process
  • Provides that there will be no obligation or compulsion on religious organisations or individuals to carry out or participate in a religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple
  • Provides protection under equality law for religious organisations and individuals who do not wish to marry same-sex couples in a religious ceremony
  • The repeal of section 11(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 with the effect that a couple are not a man and a woman does not make a marriage void

Which religious organisations conduct same-sex marriages in England and Wales?

The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 recognises that not all religious organisations believe in same-sex marriages. As such, it differentiates between the civil understanding of marriage (which is often broader and more inclusive) and the religious understanding of marriage.

Section 2 of the act introduced opt-in provisions, giving religious organisations and their representatives a choice as to whether they want to solemnise and/or conduct same-sex marriages.

The act goes on to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is not permitted in the Church of England and the Church in Wales. To date, both the Church of England and the Church in Wales have made their position clear – they don’t wish to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies according to their rites, and they are not compelled by the act to do so.

Religious organisations that have ‘opted in’ include the likes of Unitarians, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and some United Reformed Church congregations. The act also legally protects any religious organisation from having a discrimination claim brought against it on the basis that it refuses to conduct a same-sex marriage.

What’s the difference between same-sex marriage and civil partnership?

The main difference between same-sex marriage and a civil partnership is that a marriage is formed by vows, whereas a civil partnership involves the signing of a civil partnership document.

Since 10 December 2014, same-sex civil partners have been able to apply to convert their civil partnership to a marriage. This includes a standard conversion procedure in which the couple attend before the superintendent registrar in a register officer or local registration office to convert their civil partnership.

Fundamentally, the process of ending both a same-sex marriage and a civil partnership is the same. However, marriages are ended by divorce, while civil partnerships can only be ended through dissolution.

How do you get divorced as a same-sex couple?

According to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013, once a same-sex couple has entered into marriage together, they must follow the same separation proceedings as an opposite-sex couple. When the relationship has broken down, either party can seek a divorce based on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

As of April 6 2022, married couples can now divorce amicably by filing for a no-fault divorce –there is no requirement for either party to assign blame for the breakdown of the relationship.

Seeking support with your divorce?

Following the legalisation of same-sex marriage, we can expect the number of people getting married to increase. Unfortunately, this can also lead to a greater number of divorces and relationship breakdowns further down the line. To support all individuals seeking a divorce or separation, we, therefore, offer dedicated legal advice and guidance.

Our established team of Wilson Browne divorce solicitors can be easily contacted by visiting any one of our six branches. This includes locations in Northampton and Leicester as well as Kettering, Corby, Higham Ferrers and Wellingborough. To schedule a meeting at your local branch, please feel free to get in touch!

To speak to a member of our team, you can either give us a call on 0800 088 6004 or use our convenient online form to submit your enquiry. All we require is your basic contact details alongside your contact preferences and enquiry details. From here, we’ll ensure an experienced member of our family law and divorce solicitor team gets in touch with your shortly.

Jess Leech


Jess Leech


Jess is an Associate & Legal 500 Recommended Solicitor in our Family Law Team, who advises clients on all areas of Private Family Law including Injunction Orders (Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders), Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements, Divorce, Separation of Finances, Cohabitee Disputes and Children Matters.