Stonewall boss and wife told they can’t convert civil partnership to marriage

A top boss at Stonewall has been told that her civil partnership of 15 years cannot be converted into marriage under UK law. 

Chief executive Nancy Kelley shared a tearful photograph of herself and her wife Jenn Merrick on social media and outlined the heartbreaking experience they had trying to upgrade their union to a marriage. 

“A story about what it feels like to try and engage with bureaucracy when you are LGBTQ+”, she wrote alongside picture. 

The pair, who have been together for 16 years and got a civil partnership in Vermont after a year of dating, moved to the UK where their union was recognised under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. 

Kelley detailed how the couple went on to have a happy life in the UK, adopt children and get “way too many pets”. 

When same-sex marriage was legalised they did not choose to get married under the new act because – as Kelley states – “I’ve always been married to my wife. 

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However, she said “recently Jenn said she wanted to get married because she was scared our relationship would lose its legal protection. 

“So we agreed to get married.”

Continuing the thread, Kelley wrote: “It took months of unreturned emails and admin chaos to get an appointment at the registrar.  

“We didn’t even bother inviting people, because by this point we *just knew*  was going to be some form of f***ery.” 

This is where everything went downhill. 

“The idea of wiping away those 15 years as if they never existed just breaks me”

“First the registrar (who was lovely, if inaccurate) told us our civil partnership wasn’t recognised in the UK,” Kelley explained, “Repeatedly.  I disagreed, cited law, even tried the ‘I literally run the organization that helped get these laws passed’ thing.  So the registrar called the GRO.

“Who told him our civil partnership wasn’t recognized in the UK.  Cue more of the nice registrar talking in general terms about ‘the law’ and me saying ‘I believe you are wrong about the operation of the Civil Partnerships Act’.  Jenn’s resigned, I’m getting angry.

“He rings the GRO, asks them to talk to me. They say “its not recognized in the UK”.  I say “That is not correct.  Are you saying that there is some provision in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act that means that only UK civil partnerships can get upgraded?” She puts me on hold.” 

At this point, the boss comes on the phone who tells the couple “we aren’t saying your civil partnership is not recognized in the UK, we are saying you can’t have it upgraded to a marriage”. 

Here, Kelley details how the couple and the registrar work through the registrar’s handbook and “literally nowhere” can they find anything which says the couple cannot upgrade their union. 

“The registrar is miserable. He tells us we  have to go back to Vermont AND GET DIVORCED if we want to be married under UK law.  I start crying.  The idea of wiping away those 15 years as if they never existed just breaks me.

“We finally get out the door.  We cry our f***ing eyes out in the sunshine outside the town hall.  We look at each other and remind ourselves that this is just what it is always like as a queer person trying to move through the world,” Kelley writes defiantly. 

Following the horrific ordeal, Kelley read her way through the entirety of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, where she discovered the clause relating to upgrading civil unions to marriages

The clause states that people may convert a civil partnership into a marriage “under a procedure established by regulations made by the Secretary of State”. 

She added: “Apparently the only way of finding this out was to a) read the entirety of the actual legislation or b) rock up and try.  And I KNOW this is first world problems.  But I just wanted to be able to make the woman I love feel safer in this queerphobic hellscape.  And I can’t.”

The Cabinet office has been contacted in regards to this legislation.

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