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Congratulations to England and Wales on Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 03/12/14
Last updated on: 03/13/14
 
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Celia Kitzinger (left) and Sue Wilkinson.

At 12:01 a.m. on March 13, England and Wales will recognize as legally married same-sex couples who have been married in other jurisdictions. Among them will be Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger, who married in Canada in 2003 and then fought an unsuccessful battle to have their marriage recognized in the United Kingdom. Although they lost their legal battle, as a result of the Same-Sex Marriage Act of 2013, they will be among the first British couples to be recognized as legally married.

As explained in PinkNews, the Same-Sex Marriage Act of 2013 goes into effect in England and Wales on March 13, 2014. New same-sex weddings cannot take place until March 29, 2014 because new weddings require a notice period. However, on March 13 existing overseas marriages will be recognized as legal marriages rather than as civil unions in the United Kingdom.

In addition, during the period of March 13 through March 29, the notice period may be waived for marriages where one or both of the partners is terminally ill.

Same-sex marriage will become legal in Scotland later this year. Queen Elizabeth II has given her Royal Assent to the measure, but details and regulations remain to be dealt with before the law goes into force.

Wilkinson and Kitzinger married in Yaletown, Vancouver, in August 2003, a few weeks after same-sex marriage became legal in British Columbia, where Wilkinson was then a Visiting Professor at Simon Fraser University. On their return to England, they discovered that their relationship had no legal status at all. Two years later, with the implementation of the Civil Partnership Act, the Canadian marriage was automatically converted to a civil partnership.

In 2006, the couple sued for the recognition of their marriage. They asked the High Court to recognize their overseas marriage in the same way that it would recognize the overseas marriage of an opposite-sex couple. They argued that a failure to do so breached their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into domestic U.K. law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

On July 31, 2006, the High Court ruled that the marriage would continue to be recognized as a civil partnership in England and Wales, but not as a marriage. The President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, agreed that Wilkinson and Kitzinger were discriminated against by the Civil Partnership Act 2004, but ruled that "such discrimination has a legitimate aim, is reasonable and proportionate, and falls within the margin of appreciation accorded to Convention States."

Wilkinson and Kitzinger expressed delight that notwithstanding the rebuff they received from the High Court eight years ago, they will be among the first same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized in the U.K.

Kitzinger, a Sociology professor at the University of York, said, "Tonight at 12:01, when our marriage is finally recognized in our home country I think we'll be opening a bottle of champagne, toasting ourselves, toasting equality and toasting the future of lesbian and gay equality for all countries of the world."

She added, "I came out as lesbian in 1973 and things were a lot different then and it never occurred to me that one day the law would be changed such that my marriage to the woman that I love would be recognized."

Wilkinson, a social sciences professor at Loughborough University, reflected on the fact that only eight years ago they lost a court case to declare their marriage legal in the U.K. "I think for me it is disbelief more than anything else. It's kind of suddenly crept up on us from nowhere . . . But now [our marriage] will be legal in this country and that's pretty stunning."

Another high-profile couple is Liberal Democrat peer Lord Brian Paddick who married his husband Petter in Oslo in 2009, soon after Norway adopted marriage equality. In 2013, Lord Paddick spoke of his marriage and of how the refusal of the U.K. to recognize it made him seem second-class during the debate on the Same-Sex Marriage Act in the House of Lords.

Until his retirement in May 2007 as Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service, Paddick was the U.K.'s most senior openly gay police officer.

Lord Paddick writes of his delight at the fact that his marriage to Petter is now recognized in the U.K. in an op-ed at PinkNews.

Wilkinson and Kitzinger are featured in the video below reporting on the recognition of same-sex marriages in England and Wales.

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