Gay Dearne dads in battle for marriage rights

Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice.
Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice.

A gay couple from Thurnscoe are clinging to hopes of a last-minute reprieve to allow them to get married in March.

Dads Paul and Michael Atwal-Brice are in a five-year civil partnership and wanted to marry on the historic date of March 29, to be among the first gay couples to marry in the UK.

Twins Lucas and Levi Atwal-Bryce, five, who suffer with Autism, with their parents Paul (left) and Michael Atwal-Brice . Picture: Liz Mockler S0771LM

Twins Lucas and Levi Atwal-Bryce, five, who suffer with Autism, with their parents Paul (left) and Michael Atwal-Brice . Picture: Liz Mockler S0771LM

But they discovered that Government legislation is not yet in place to allow the transfer from civil partnership to marriage, unless the couple effectively split up first, a long and unpleasant process.

Furthermore, full legislation is not expected to be in place until at least the end of the year.

The couple, who have young adopted twins, Levi and Lucas, are supported in their plea for action by Dearne MP John Healey, and their local Church of England vicar, who would, but is unable to marry them in his church by law.

Solicitors Irwin Mitchell, representing the men, are pushing for a full judicial review over the Government’s lack of legislation to allow the men to move ahead swiftly with their plans.

A spokesman for the legal firm said: “A letter before action was sent to the Government last Thursday, giving them chance to resolve the issue and seven days in which to respond. If they do not come back with a resolution we will be forced to seek a judicial review.”

Paul, 34, said: “Almost everything was in place for our wedding. Because Levi and Lucas have disabilities we planned to invite 50 disabled children and their families, mainly because they so often get left out of big occasions. And we wanted wedding gifts to be donations to the Caudwell Children charity. We wanted to be like any other couple and have a big celebration on a special date.

“We’re in complete limbo now. Barnsley Registry Office has reserved a place for us just in case.”

Michael, 29, added: “It’s just shocking that with such a massive change in the law, there appear to be these huge omissions. Many couples still won’t be aware of this. It’s to do with our rights as a couple.

“We’ve been together since 2002 and want to be married because it means love and commitment and makes us the same as everyone else. A civil partnership doesn’t feel the same. We have waited such a long time. It’s a huge disappointment to us.”

MP Mr Healey has written to the government minister responsible and asked questions in Parliament.

He said: “The government needs to explain why couples like Paul and Michael who have already made a strong commitment to each other by becoming civil partners aren’t able to take the next step and marry.

“They seem to be dragging their feet with the result that civil partners are being forced to wait behind couples wanting new marriages.”

The men’s plight has received national attention in the past week and they featured on national television news as their solicitor spoke about the potential judicial review in to the current lack of legislation within the marriage act.

Father Carl Schaefer of Goldthorpe and Thurnscoe parish said: “I do sympathise with the couple as it appears the marriage legislation was pushed through too quickly. However, it would still be illegal for them to marry in a Church of England church.

“It’s important that same sex couples entering civil partnership know the full implications. Such partnerships have to dissolve in the same way as divorce and it takes time. It is also not a nice process to go through.”

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We are continuing to work hard to ensure that couples wanting to convert their civil partnerships into marriages are able to do so as soon as possible. We aim to do this before the end of 2014. The conversion process will ensure that couples in civil partnerships do not have a break in their legal relationship, which could have implications for matters such as their pension entitlements.

“It will take longer because we need to introduce new procedures and processes. This contrasts with the work to make new marriages for same sex couples possible, where we have been able to build on existing processes so implementation is more straightforward. ”