EHRC publishes new guidance on marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales

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The Equalitydefinition and Human Rights Commission published new guidance to explain the changes introduced by the Marriage (Same Sexdefinition Couples) Act 2013 and how they relate to equality and human rights law. Download the guidance at:  The guidance is designed to help organisations understand the law in a simple and clear way and help them avoid falling foul of the new legislation.

The Act makes the marriage of same sex couples lawful in England and Wales. Religious organisations are free to choose whether to opt in to marrying same sex couples according to their rites and marriage procedures (1). Scotland and Northern Ireland both have different  legislation covering marriage.

Under the new legislation:

  • Same sex couples will be able to get married in England and Wales and those marriages will be recognised in law (subject to meeting legal requirements). 
  • Same sex married couples will be treated in the same way as opposite sex married couples in most circumstances. 
  • Religious organisations can choose to opt in to conduct marriages for same sex couples. No one can compel the organisations or their officials to participate in religious marriages of same sex couples if they do not wish to do so.
  • Religious freedom is specifically protected under human rights law. 
  • All civil marriage register offices are now designated and required by law to conduct marriages of same sex couples.  
  • Commercial service providers cannot treat customers less favourably, for example by refusing to provide services on the basis that the customer is married to or intends to marry a person of the same sex. 
  • Individuals are free to hold whatever belief they choose on marriage of same sex couples. The expression of those views can be limited, for example where it’s necessary to protect the rights and freedoms of others. 
  • Employees will need to be mindful of relevant workplace and professional policies and rules; employers should apply rules and policies consistently with individuals’ civil liberties. 
  • Schools must teach the facts about marriage during relevant lessons in an objective, sensitive and professional way, especially where the national curriculum and statutory guidance applies. 
  • Schools with a religious character can continue to teach about marriage according to their religious doctrines or ethos.