House of Commons Library

Civil partnership for opposite sex couples

Published Monday, January 6, 2020

This Commons Library briefing paper deals with the extension of eligibility to register a civil partnership to opposite sex couples across the UK

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Background

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA 2004), which extends across the United Kingdom, created a union, at that time for same sex couples only, which is very similar, but not fully identical, to marriage. At the time the CPA 2004 was enacted, it was not possible for same sex couples to marry in any part of the UK. Civil partners have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in many areas.

A separate Library briefing paper, The future of civil partnership (CBP 7856), provides background information about progress towards opposite sex civil partnership.

England and Wales

Eligible same sex couples have been able to register a civil partnership since December 2005. With effect from December 2019, eligible opposite sex couples may also register a civil partnership.

Same sex couples may convert their civil partnership to a marriage, if they wish.  At present, opposite sex couples do not have this right to convert.

Government consultation

On 10 July 2019, the Government Equalities Office published a policy paper and consultation, Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps. The consultation, which closed on 20 August 2019, sought views on proposals to introduce a new right for opposite sex couples to convert from a marriage to a civil partnership for a limited period of time, before this right, and the existing right for same sex couples to convert from a civil partnership to marriage, is brought to an end.

The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019

The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 (the  Regulations), which were made on 5 November 2019 and came into force on 2 December 2019:

  • amend the eligibility criteria in the CPA 2004 to allow opposite sex couples to register civil partnerships under the law of England and Wales;
  • amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to maintain the current position on conversion rights, so that only same sex couples may convert their civil partnerships to marriage for now. The Explanatory Memorandum published with the Regulations states:

“This approach avoids making short-term changes ahead of the outcome of the public consultation on the future of conversion rights conducted earlier this year… Further regulations on conversion rights may follow next year, depending on the outcome of the consultation”;

  • make consequential and related changes to primary and secondary legislation.

Scotland

Issues in relation to civil status are devolved. The Scottish Parliament can make changes to the status of civil partnership in Scotland.

At present, the CPA 2004 provides that two people are not eligible to register in Scotland as civil partners of each other if (among other reasons) they are not of the same sex.

Following consultation, on 25 June 2019, the Scottish Government announced that a Bill would be introduced in the Scottish Parliament in the autumn to ensure that mixed sex couples and same sex couples have the same choices of marriage or civil partnership.

On 30 September 2019, the Scottish Government introduced the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.  

The Scottish Government now uses the term ‘mixed sex’ rather than ‘opposite sex’.

Northern Ireland

At present, opposite sex couples may marry but may not register a civil partnership.

Because the Northern Ireland Executive was not restored on or before 21 October 2019, section 8 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 came into force on 22 October 2019. This section requires the Secretary of State to make regulations, to come into force on or before 13 January 2020, to provide that, in Northern Ireland, same sex couples are eligible to marry, and opposite sex couples are eligible to register a civil partnership. Further information is provided in another Library briefing paper, Marriage of same sex couples: Northern Ireland (CBP 8646).

The Marriage (Same-sex Couples) and Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2019, intended to give effect to this requirement, were made on 19 December 2019 and are due to come into force on 13 January 2020.

The Government intends to publish a consultation in January 2020 on (among other things) what conversion entitlements should be available to couples in Northern Ireland, with further regulations to follow later in the year.

 

 

 

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8609

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topics: Civil partnerships, Family law

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