On 29 March 2014, the UK law changed to give same sex couples the right to get married in England and Wales. Linzi Bull and Emily Grosvenor-Taylor, from prestigious London law firm Harbottle & Lewis, explain who can get married or enter a civil partnership in the UK, and what the legal requirements are for foreign nationals wishing to come to the UK to enter a same sex marriage, and what protocols must be followed.
Gay Marriage in the UK: the Essentials
The basic rules for getting married or entering into a civil partnership in the UK are that you and your partner must be:
- 16 or over;
- free to marry (ie. being single, divorced or widowed); and
- not closely related to your intended spouse.
What if I am under 18?
If you are under 18, you will need permission from your parents or guardians to get married.
I live overseas and am gay. Can I get married in the UK?
For overseas couples wishing to marry in the UK, the route is not quite so simple and there are a number of hurdles which need to be jumped to ensure that your marriage is legally recognised.
Step One: Before your marriage in the UK
There are two steps for couples who wish to get married or enter into a civil partnership in England and Wales. The first is to give at least 16 days’ notice at your local register office. If either one of you is not from the EEA or Switzerland, then you should go to a ‘designated register office’. You can find a list of these on the UK government’s website, together with a list of documents which you will need to submit if you are not resident in England.
Coming to the UK to Marry a British citizen
If your partner is a British citizen or settled in the UK and you both intend to remain in the UK then you will need a fiancé or a proposed civil partner visa if you intend to stay for longer than 6 months. This usually takes about 12 weeks to issue. It is worth noting that you are not able to work under this form of visa.
Coming from the EEA or Switzerland to the UK to marry someone who lives outside the EEA & Switzerland
If one of you is from the EEA or Switzerland and the other is from outside the EEA, then you will need an EEA family permit. This will last for six months and it can be applied for online.
Coming to the UK to marry when you both reside outside the EEA & Switzerland
If you are both from outside the EEA or Switzerland and you and your partner intend to leave the country within 6 months then you should apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa. This will allow you to visit the UK for 6 months and you can use it to marry or enter into a civil partnership within six months of your arrival. It should be borne in mind that family members cannot be brought in on this visa and must apply separately. This visa cannot be extended, changed to another visa and you cannot work or carry out any business or undertake a course of study under it.
If you have been divorced or widowed previously, you should take a copy of the Decree Absolute, final order or death certificate to the register office. When a divorce or death occurred abroad, then the relevant documents can be presented if they are legally recognised in that country. The registrar will check your documents and may liaise with the General Register Office to confirm that your marriage can go ahead.
Step Two – The Ceremony
A religious wedding can take place at a church, chapel or other registered religious building.
It is currently not possible to get married in an Anglican Church as a same sex couple. However, you can get married in other religious buildings around England and Wales if the religious organisation allows same sex weddings to take place and the premises have been registered for the marriage of same sex couples.
If you want to marry in a Jewish or a Quaker ceremony then you should give notice with the register office at least 16 days before the ceremony. The Officials who are asked to perform the Jewish or Quaker marriages are also able to register the marriage.
For marriages in all other religions, it is important that you give notice with the register office at least 16 days before the ceremony. Ministers and priests of other religions can be authorised to register marriages. Sometimes, if the official performing the ceremony is not authorised, it might be the case that a registrar must attend the religious ceremony or you may need to have separate religious and civil ceremonies.
In a nutshell
It is worth doing your own detailed research before fixing a wedding date overseas. This may not be the most exciting part of wedding planning but it is crucial to make sure that your big day goes smoothly!
Have you got a legal question about your marital rights or family law? Get in touch with Linzi and Emily at Harbottle & Lewis on 020 7667 5000. Find out more about Harbottle & Lewis and what they do.