From today there is no legal reason why a loving couple cannot be married just because of their sexual orientation

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people now know that society values them as much as anyone else

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The Independent Online

Just over a year ago, debate was raging about the coalition's plans to introduce marriage for same sex couples.

We received the largest ever response to a government consultation. There were protests outside parliament.  Many entrenched members of the establishment were saying it was a change too far: we had always lived with inequality so why change it now?

Just over a year later, this debate has all but faded away. Political drama has been replaced by personal joy, as people see gay and lesbian friends and relatives finally able to celebrate their relationship in the way that other couples have for centuries.

However, until now there has been no way for couples already in civil partnerships to marry.  So today we are taking the final step in changing the law. Couples in civil partnerships, if they want to, will now be free to convert them into marriages.

Regardless of whether they ever choose to marry, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their families now know that society values them as much as anyone else. I don’t think you can overestimate what that means to the gay teenager growing up; the man or woman who has suffered discrimination at work; or the elderly couple who have lived much of their life in secret. And I don’t think you can overestimate the extent to which it makes our whole society fairer and more open.

Of course, this could not have been achieved without the momentous change to introduce civil partnerships in 2005. Thousands of couples jumped to take advantage of this legislation – often believing that full marriage equality was another generation away.

We have worked hard to make sure the process works for individual couples. For those who simply want to convert their civil partnership, there is a straightforward, one step process where couples book an appointment to attend any register office in England or Wales, and sign a simple declaration. Marriages will be recorded as having started on the date they formed their civil partnership.

There is also the option to get dressed up, throw another party and celebrate with a ceremony. These can take place anywhere approved for marriage ceremonies, and in religious premises that are registered for marriages of same sex couples.

Today’s news is fantastic for couples in civil partnerships, and for the whole country. From today there is no reason in law why a loving couple cannot be married just because of their sexual orientation. This country has taken another great liberal stride forward in making sure there is equality for all.

Jo Swinson is the Minister for Equalities

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