House of Commons Library

The future of civil partnership

Published Wednesday, October 24, 2018

This Commons Library briefing paper considers the calls for civil partnership to be made available to opposite sex couples

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This briefing paper deals with the position in England and Wales unless otherwise stated.

Civil partnership and marriage across the UK

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.

Statistics on civil partnerships and marriage of same sex couples

Between the introduction of civil partnerships in December 2005 and the end of 2016 there were 71,017 civil partnerships formed in the UK.

The number of civil partnerships formed fell after the introduction of marriage for same sex couples in England and Wales in March 2014, and in Scotland in December 2014. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 the number of civil partnerships in these three countries did not change much, 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 the end of 2015, there were 9,978 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. A further 11,557 couples have done so between that date and the end of 2015. 

Previous consultations on the future of 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 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 that time but would continue to consider the evidence on potential take-up of mixed-sex civil partnership in Scotland.

Calls for civil partnership to be opened to opposite sex couples

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.

Separately, some calls have been made for civil partnership to be extended to a wider range of couples – for example, siblings who live together. The Government does not support such calls.

Government Command Paper

In May 2018, the Government published a Command Paper, The Future Operation of Civil Partnership: Gathering Further Information, which set out how the Government would gather the additional information it considered necessary to bring forward proposals for the future of civil partnership. On overall timing, the Government said (at that time) that, at the earliest, it anticipated being able to consult on the future operation of civil partnerships in 2020.

Supreme Court decision

In a judgment delivered on 27 June 2018, the Supreme Court decided that the current law on civil partnership is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights to the extent that it precludes opposite sex couples from entering into civil partnerships.

Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill (the Bill) is a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton (Conservative), who came fifth in the ballot for Commons Private Members’ Bills for the 2017-19 Parliamentary session. Explanatory Notes were prepared by the Home Office with the consent of Tim Loughton. Information about the Bill is provided on the Bill page on the Parliament website.

The Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee, has Government and Opposition support.

The amended 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” and setting out the Government’s plans for achieving that aim. The arrangements would have to provide for a public consultation. The Secretary of State would be required to lay the Report before Parliament.

Report stage in the Commons is scheduled for 26 October 2018. A new clause “Reform of civil partnership” has been tabled in the names of Tim Loughton and others which would require the Secretary of State to make regulations, to take effect within six months of the Bill being passed, “to change the law relating to civil partnership to bring about equality between same-sex couples and other couples in terms of their future ability or otherwise to form civil partnerships”.

The Bill would also deal with a number of other matters. Another Library briefing paper provides further information:

Commons Library analysis: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill (CPB 08217).

Government announcement that civil partnership law will be changed

On 2 October 2018, Theresa May announced that the Government would change the law to allow opposite sex couples in England and Wales to enter into a civil partnership. Since then, the Government has indicated that it intends to introduce legislation “as soon as possible”.

New consultation by Scottish Government

Following the Supreme Court judgment in June 2018, the Scottish Government is consulting on the future of civil partnership in Scotland. The consultation opened on 28 September 2018 and will close on 21 December 2018.

The consultation sets out two options for change and seeks views on the arguments for and against these options. The two options are: to make provision laying down that no new civil partnerships could be entered into in Scotland from a date in the future; and the introduction of opposite sex civil partnership. The Scottish Government has said that “Either option would be effective in removing the current discrimination from the law”.

Once the responses to the consultation have been analysed, the Scottish Government intends to take a decision on the way ahead and legislate.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7856

Authors: Catherine Fairbairn; Cassie Barton

Topics: Civil partnerships, Family law

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