Should Civil Partnerships Be Available to All?

21 May 2018

There have been a growing number of calls in recent months for the extension of Civil Partnerships to heterosexual couples in England and Wales. In response to this, the Government is now conducting research to establish exactly what the public want from Civil Partnerships, in order to help them shape the future of these unions.

What is a Civil Partnership?

A Civil Partnership is a legally recognised union between a same sex couple, which affords the couple similar legal rights and privileges as a marriage would. Civil Partnerships were introduced in England and Wales in 2005 as a way for same sex couples to obtain legal recognition for their relationship, before same sex marriage was made available.

Unlike marriage, Civil Partnerships have no religious grounding and the union is formalised by signing the Schedule of Civil Partnership, as opposed to saying vows.

Gathering Further Information

With marriage for same sex couples being made legal in England and Wales in 2014, some are questioning whether there is now a need for Civil Partnerships. Meanwhile, others are calling for Civil Partnerships to be made available to opposite sex couples.

The Government acknowledges that the public’s attitude towards Civil Partnerships has shifted in recent years. In light of this, a survey is being launched to explore whether Civil Partnerships should be abolished, closed to new registrations or extended to opposite sex couples.

The Government has consulted twice before on this matter (in 2012 and again in 2014 when same sex marriage was being introduced into law). During these consultations, there was not a strong enough consensus on any of the three options to make a change to the law, so no action was taken.

The Government will now look at four key elements to determine the future of Civil Partnerships. These include:

  • Civil Partnership and marriage trends for same sex couples – analysis of existing data will be carried out to see if there is still a demand for Civil Partnerships among same sex couples now that same sex marriage is available.
  • Assessing demand for Civil Partnerships amongst opposite sex couples – a survey will be launched to gauge how popular Civil Partnerships for opposite sex couples would be if they were made available.
  • Establishing why some same sex couples choose Civil Partnerships instead of marriage – while the number of same sex couples entering into Civil Partnerships has declined since the introduction of same sex marriage, a small number of couples do still choose this option and the Government are keen to understand their reasons.
  • Looking at what other countries have done – the experiences of other countries will be called upon to predict how the expansion or withdrawal of Civil Partnerships could work in the UK.

Why Do Some Want Civil Partnerships to Be Available to All?

There has been a high profile case in the press in recent months where an opposite sex couple are challenging the current law on Civil Partnerships. This case has now reached the Supreme Court. The couple want to be permitted to enter into a Civil Partnership to gain legal recognition for their relationship without getting married.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, from London, do not want to get married because of the “historically patriarchal nature” of marriage. They feel that the current law prohibiting them from entering into a Civil Partnership infringes on their human rights.

There are currently over 3 million couples in the UK who are living together with no legal recognition of their relationship. This is called cohabitation and, as more and more couples choose not to get married, it is currently the fastest growing family type in the UK. There is no such thing as Common Law Marriage in England and Wales, which means that cohabiting couples are currently not afforded any legal protection in the event of separation or of one person’s death.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan are citing this as one of the reasons why they feel it’s important for an alternative to marriage to be made available to opposite sex couples.

As the popularity of marriage declines, some feel that giving couples another option without any religious connotations could be well received.

However, it’s important to note for those looking to enter into a Civil Partnership that, unlike marriage, a Civil Partnership cannot be dissolved on the basis of adultery if the relationship fails because of this reason.

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