It is important to remember that people are not defined by any singular characteristic. Social determinants such as ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation combine and intersect to affect health and wellbeing, often varying across the life-course.   Everyone has at least five protected characteristics.

A narrow focus on one aspect of an individual´s or a group´s identity may therefore work to the detriment of understanding and responding to the reality of their lives and experiences.

Until 2013, Marriage was defined as a ‘union between a man and a woman’. Same-sex couples had been able to have their relationships legally recognised as ‘civil partnerships’, with civil partners having the right to be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters.  On 17 July 2013 the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force and allows same-sex couples in England and Wales the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples.  The Act has received Royal Assent and is now law, and the first same sex couple married on the 29th March 2014.  Religious organisations have the opportunity to “opt in” to performing religious same-sex marriages, although the Church of England and the Church in Wales are specifically prevented by the legislation from conducting same-sex marriages.

The new Act remains separate from the Marriage Act 1949, which allows opposite-sex couples to marry, although the provisions are largely the same and afford married same-sex couples the same legal status as married opposite-sex couples.  The term “marriage” and “married couple” is now extended to include same-sex couples.

The new legislation also makes some amendments to the Gender Reassignment Act 2004. The amendments enable existing marriages registered in England and Wales or outside the UK to continue where one or both parties change their legal gender and both parties wish to remain married. It also amends the Act to enable a civil partnership to continue where both parties change their gender simultaneously and wish to remain in their civil partnership.

A same-sex marriage remains distinct from a civil partnership, although couples who have previously entered into a civil partnership will be able to convert it into a marriage by way of an application.  The resulting marriage will then be treated as having begun on the date of the civil partnership.

Civil partnerships currently remain unavailable to opposite-sex couples but this is an ongoing issue recently seen fought in the courts.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees who are married or in a civil partnership against discrimination. Single people are not protected.

The Equality Duty applies to marriage and civil partnership, but only in respect of the requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation. This is because the first aim of the duty extends to all conduct that is prohibited under the Act. The Equality Duty does not require public authorities to have due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between married people or people in civil partnership and others, nor to foster good relations between married people or people in civil partnerships and others.

The Government believes that all people eligible to marry or enter into a civil partnership have a right to do so freely and without coercion.  A forced marriage is where one or both parties do not, or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress includes both physical and emotional pressure. It is very different from arranged marriage, where both parties give their full and free consent to the marriage.