Same-sex couples in England and Wales now have the option to register a civil partnership or to get married. If you are already in a civil partnership and want to change to a marriage, you can now do so.
To explain the history, civil partnership came into force in England and Wales in December 2005, when same-sex couples could for the first time form a legally recognised relationship which gave all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Civil partnership was only available to same-sex couples, and so was entirely separate from marriage, which was then only available to heterosexual couples.
In March 2014, marriage in England and Wales was extended to include same-sex couples. This was a largely symbolic (though very important) equalisation step, enabling same-sex couples to legally be husbands and wives, rather than civil partners (albeit with the same legal rights and responsibilities). Civil partnership was not abolished, which means that same-sex couples still have the option to register a civil partnership if they do not wish to get married, and couples who were already in a civil partnership remain civil partners.
Couples who were already in a civil partnership were initially prevented from getting married (since you cannot legally be in two marital relationships at once, even if it is to the same person). However, from December 2014, civil partners were given the right to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. This is an optional process.
You do not need to do so, and it makes no significant practical difference to your legal rights and responsibilities since civil partnership and marriage are legally equivalent. However, many same-sex couples feel that their relationship should be fully recognised as a marriage and put on the same footing as other married couples.
If you wish to convert to marriage, there are two options for how you do it:
This is a simple administrative process where you will both need to attend an appointment at a register office and complete a declaration with details about you and your civil partnership. Documents that you need to produce include:
A legal declaration will then be drawn up for you both to sign. You can say the declaration aloud to each other before signing if you want to.
It is not necessary to ask witnesses to come to this appointment with you.
The first stage mirrors the standard conversion process, and involves you both attending an appointment at a register office and completing a declaration with details about you and your civil partnership. Documents that you need to produce include:
You will not sign the declaration at the initial appointment.
The second stage involves you signing the declaration and can be combined with a ceremony at any place licensed to carry out marriages (e.g. stately homes, hotels and some religious places). The signing of the declaration must take place within 12 months of your initial register office appointment. You will not receive a marriage certificate until the declaration is signed.
Your marriage will then be registered and a marriage certificate will be issued. Your marriage is backdated, so your marriage certificate will say that you have been married since the date you entered into your civil partnership.