This Commons Library briefing paper considers the calls made by some for civil partnership to be made available to opposite sex couplesJump to full report >>
This briefing paper deals with the position in England and Wales unless otherwise stated
In England, Wales and Scotland, same sex couples have the option to marry or to register a civil partnership if they wish to gain legal recognition for their relationship. In Northern Ireland, same sex couples may register a civil partnership but may not marry. Across the UK, opposite sex couples may marry but they may not register a civil partnership.
When consulting on the introduction of marriage for same sex couples, the Coalition Government considered that it was unnecessary to extend civil partnership to opposite sex couples, given the availability of both civil and religious marriage.
Following the introduction of marriage for same sex couples in England and Wales in March 2014, and in Scotland in December 2014, the number of civil partnerships fell. There were just over a thousand civil partnerships formed in the UK in 2016. This was roughly the same number as in 2015, suggesting that the level of civil partnership formation may have stabilised since the introduction of same sex marriages.
Between the introduction of same sex marriage in England and Wales on 29 March 2014 and 30 June 2015, there were 7,366 marriages formed between same sex couples in England and Wales. Couples in civil partnerships in England and Wales have been able to convert their civil partnership into a marriage since 10 December 2014. Between that date and 30 June 2015, 7,732 couples converted their civil partnership into a marriage in England and Wales.
Same sex marriage was introduced in Scotland on 16 December 2014. The legislation in Scotland allowed couples in a civil partnership to marry without first dissolving their civil partnership. In 2015, there were 1,671 marriages formed between same sex couples in Scotland, of which 936 were between couples who were already in a civil partnership. In 2016, there were 998 marriages formed between same sex couples in Scotland, of which 173 were between couples who were already in a civil partnership.
In 2014, the Coalition Government consulted on the future of civil partnership in England and Wales. Among other things, the Government asked for views on opening up civil partnership to opposite sex couples. In June 2014, the Coalition Government stated that, in responses to the consultation, there was no united call for reform and that it had decided not to do anything at that time.
The Scottish Government has also consulted on the future of civil partnership in Scotland. In November 2017, the Scottish Government published its response to the consultation. It stated that it did not intend to legislate on civil partnership at present but would continue to consider the evidence on potential take-up of mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland. It considered it likely that it would be reasonable to reassess the position after 2019.
Calls continue to be made for civil partnership to be made available to opposite sex couples. Supporters of this position argue that opposite sex couples, like same sex couples, should be able to choose whether to marry or to register a civil partnership.
In January 2016, an opposite sex couple lost their claim for judicial review of the ban on civil partnership for opposite sex couples. The couple lost their appeal to the Court of Appeal but have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Government has previously confirmed that it did not intend to consult further on the future of civil partnership or to change the law. In December 2017, the Government said that it was keeping the matter of civil partnerships under review and was assessing the demand amongst both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The Government considered it to be still too early to judge how the law should be changed and declined to comment further because of the ongoing legal action.
In July 2017, having come fifth in the Private Members’ Bill ballot which took place in June 2017, Tim Loughton (Conservative) introduced the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19 (the Bill). Explanatory Notes have been prepared by the Home Office with the consent of Tim Loughton. The Bill is due to have its second reading on 2 February 2018.
The long title to the Bill includes “to provide that opposite sex couples may enter a civil partnership”.
The Bill would require the Secretary of State to “make arrangements for the preparation of a report assessing how the law ought to be changed to bring about equality between same-sex couples and other couples in terms of their future ability or otherwise to form civil partnerships”.
Another Library briefing paper provides further information about the Bill, which also deals with a number of other matters:
Commons Library analysis: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill (CPB 08217, 1 February 2018).
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7856
Authors: Catherine Fairbairn; Oliver Hawkins