Green Paper, White Paper and why consultation is necessary.

Over 228,000 responses and 19 petitions containing over 500,000 signatures were received in response to the consultation on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Law students who want to be able to show that they fully understand the purpose of consultation and the point of Green papers and White papers may want to use the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill as a good example of how public opinion may be important in the development of government policy up to and including the legislative stages of a Bill in Parliament.

Same-sex marriage, as it has now become known, in England and Wales is now likely to become law having received a majority in favour of the Bill at the third reading on the 21 May 2013 in the House of Commons by a free vote of 366 votes to 161.

Some of us will remember the significance of Green and White papers in the legislative procedure and the difference between the two forms of consultation. We might also remember that Green papers come before White papers. Green papers are discussion documents drawn up by the relevant Government department when a new law is under consideration. It is worded to encourage discussion and feedback from people inside and out of Parliament. White papers will be produced after looking at the feedback and will form the basis of the Bill which will go before Parliament. White papers are statements of the Government's policies.

There was no Green paper and no White paper regarding the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, as Mr Nigel Dodds pointed out during the 2  reading of the Bill in the House of Commons on 5  February 2013. However the Government did carry out a consultation process and the result according to the Home Office was ‘……… the largest response ever received to a Government consultation, highlighting that this is an important issue to a great many people.’

Over 228,000 responses and 19 petitions containing over 500,000 signatures were received and, according to the Home Office, almost all of them responded to the question asking whether they agree or disagree with enabling same-sex couples to have a civil marriage ceremony. The response was that 53% agreed that same-sex couples should be able to have a civil marriage ceremony and 46% disagreed (1% said don’t know or not sure). This did not take into account the petitions received and which were 'universally opposed.' What does this say for the Government's response to public opinion?

To the question “The Government is not considering opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?” The response to this was overwhelmingly for making civil partnerships available to opposite sex couples. This point has, in the latter stages of the Bill's passage through Parliament caused some controversy and one wonders if this would have been avoided had the Green paper and White paper been produced in the first place.

At present the legal position is that under the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 marriage is permitted between a man and a woman. This is provided that they are over the legal age of consent and prepared to make vows of life-long fidelity and commitment. However, if a couple who love each other happen be of the same-sex, they are excluded.

The legal recognition of partnerships between same-sex couples is permitted by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and since December 2011, the registration of a civil partnership may take place on religious premises, with the consent of the religious organisation concerned.

All previous stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-13 to 2013-14

Equal marriage consultation - Consultations - Inside Government ...


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