Don't use the words husband and wife! British government's same-sex wedding reforms would axe terms from official documents
It sounds like the Liberal tail is wagging the Conservative dog
Reforms to allow same-sex marriage will see the words husband and wife removed from official forms, it was revealed last night. Tax and benefits guidance and immigration documents must be rewritten so they no longer assume a married couple is a man and a woman.
And private companies will be told to overhaul paperwork and computer databases containing the words.
Marriage certificates could even be affected by the Coalition proposals, with rules possibly axing terms such as bride and bridegroom.
The reforms – promised by Prime Minister David Cameron last autumn and set out in a consultation paper launched yesterday – intend to open civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples for the first time. A different category – religious marriage – will be reserved for male and female couples.
The proposals have triggered a furious row, with the Church of England accusing the Coalition of misunderstanding the law of marriage.
But Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone warned religious leaders not to ‘fan the flames of homophobia’ with ‘inflammatory’ language. New versions of documents will‘replace references to husband and wife with the more neutral terms spouses and partners’.
The cost of the red tape revolution demanded by the ‘Equal Civil Marriage’ plans will run into millions, according to an official analysis published alongside the consultation paper.
Businesses will be given ‘lead-in time’ – a period of grace to change their websites and databases before their failure to recognise same-sex marriage runs foul of the law.
The consultation paper, produced by Home Secretary Theresa May and Miss Featherstone, has set aside three months for public responses before civil servants begin to draw up the new legislation. And the axing of the terms husband and wife is spelled out in an ‘impact analysis’ published by the Home Office alongside the paper.
It said UK Border Agency forms and staff guidance would replace husbands and wives with spouses and partners.
‘Some tax, National Insurance Contributions and tax credit legislation will have to be changed where there is a specific reference to a husband and wife,’ it added.
References to go include direct mentions of husband and wife and phrases about couples ‘living together as husband and wife’. Forms and IT systems and guidance for Revenue and Customs staff will need to change, it added.
The removal of gender-specific language also has sweeping implications for marriage services. The Home Office declined to say yesterday how ministers intend to change the wording of ceremonies. Currently couples marrying in a register office must pledge to take each other as ‘my wedded husband’ or ‘my wedded wife’.
If marriage law is reformed in line with the rewrite of red tape, then couples will be required at a civil wedding to pledge themselves to ‘my wedded partner’.
The Church of England said: ‘Arguments that suggest “religious marriage” is separate and different from “civil marriage”, and will not be affected by the proposed redefinition, misunderstand the legal nature of marriage in this country. 'They mistake the form of the ceremony for the institution itself.’
The Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales said in a statement: ‘It is alarming to note that children are not mentioned at any stage in this consultation document about marriage.’
But Miss Featherstone said yesterday: ‘I believe that if a couple love each other and want to commit to a life together, they should have the option of a civil marriage, whatever their gender. 'Marriage is a celebration of love and should be open to everyone.’ [It's actually a reproductive contract, historically]