From today civil partners can apply to have their civil partnership converted to marriage. This is the latest development in a series of significant changes to the law for same sex couples.

Civil partnerships were introduced in England and Wales in 2005 to provide gay couples with the same legal rights as heterosexual partners. Some couples felt this was sufficient, and considered themselves to be married despite the technical legal differences. However, others felt that same-sex couples were still being treated differently and wanted to be able to marry legally rather than form a civil partnership. With the introduction of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which came into effect on Saturday 29 March 2014, marriage in England and Wales became possible for all couples, bringing a greater sense of equality at long last.

A question remained, however, as to the status of couples who had entered into a civil partnership prior to the change in the law. It was initially proposed that a certificate of conversion would be provided. This proposal was criticised as many same-sex couples felt that they were still being treated differently to heterosexual couples and so these plans were formally redacted in July 2014. The government confirmed that a backdated marriage certificate would be given rather than a certificate of conversation, and civil partners can apply for this from today at local register offices. The application will be free of charge for the first year. The marriage certificate will allow for couples to have been deemed married from the point at which they formed their civil partnership.

The conversion process can be carried out as a simple administrative exercise by attending an appointment at the register office and making a declaration in the following terms:

‘I solemnly and sincerely declare that we are in a civil partnership with each other and I know of no legal reason why we may not convert our civil partnership into a marriage. I understand that on signing this document we will be converting our civil partnership into a marriage and you will thereby become my lawful wife [or husband].’

For those who wish, the signing of the declaration can be followed by a ceremony at a venue approved for same sex marriages. After the ceremony the marriage is registered.

Over 60,000 civil partnerships had been registered in England and Wales up until December 2012, and it will be interesting to see how many couples choose to convert.