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 2015. Between 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. 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 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. Although their consultation paper asked for views on the subject, the Scottish Government stated that it was not persuaded that opposite sex civil partnership should be introduced in Scotland. The Scottish Government has stated that it will announce its decision about the future of civil partnership “in due course”.
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 have appealed to the Court of Appeal: the hearing took place in early November 2016, but the judgment has not yet been made public.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill 2016-17 (the Bill) is a Private Member’s Bill which was presented to Parliament by Tim Loughton on 21 July 2016. The intent of the Bill is to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to provide that opposite sex couples may enter into a civil partnership. A second reading debate took place on 13 January 2017 but was adjourned until 24 March 2017.
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 2016, the Government declined to comment pending the ongoing legal action, but said that there would be an update on the Government’s position on civil partnership once legal proceedings had concluded.