House of Commons Library

Civil partnership for opposite sex couples

Published Tuesday, November 5, 2019

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

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Parts 1 to 5 of this briefing paper deal with the position in England and Wales. Part 6 deals with the position in Scotland.

Overview

At present, in England and Wales, same sex couples who wish to gain legal recognition for their relationship have the option to marry or to register a civil partnership. Opposite sex couples cannot form a civil partnership. However, regulations which would extend civil partnership to opposite sex couples have now been approved by both Houses of Parliament. The Government has stated its intention to implement the regulations on 2 December 2019 which, given the usual 28-day notice period, would enable opposite sex civil partnerships to be registered on 31 December 2019.

Background

Same sex couples

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 created a union, for same sex couples only, which is very similar, but not fully identical, to marriage. At the time it was enacted, it was not possible for same sex couples to marry. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 now enables same sex couples to marry. It also enables civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage, if they wish. 

Progress towards civil partnership for opposite sex couples

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

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 began as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton (Conservative). Section 2 requires the Government to make and bring into force regulations to extend civil partnership to eligible opposite sex couples in England and Wales by no later than 31 December 2019.

Government policy paper and consultation

On 10 July 2019, the Government Equalities Office published a policy paper and consultation, Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps. This outlined the Government’s plans for extending eligibility and the range of rights and entitlements that should be made available to opposite sex civil partners.

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 draft Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019

The draft Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 (the draft Regulations) were laid before the House of Commons on 21 October 2019 and before the House of Lords on 22 October 2019. A draft Explanatory Memorandum has also been published.

The draft Regulations would come into force on the later of 2 December 2019 and the day after the day on which they are made and would:

  • amend the eligibility criteria in the Civil Partnership Act 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 would be able to convert their civil partnerships to marriage for now. The Explanatory Memorandum 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.

The Explanatory Memorandum sets out further detailed information about what is being done and why.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments drew the special attention of both Houses to the draft Regulations on the ground that, if they are approved and made, there would be a doubt as to whether they would be intra vires in one respect. The Committee was concerned about unequal conversion rights. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Committee also drew the draft Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that they give rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House.

Regulations approved by both Houses of Parliament

The draft Regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure which means that they require the approval of both Houses of Parliament before they can become law.

Both Houses have now approved the draft Regulations which means that the Minister is able to make the Regulations.

The future of civil partnership in Scotland

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

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 extends across the United Kingdom. As in England and Wales, only same sex couples may register a civil partnership. Eligible same sex couples and opposite sex couples may marry.  

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’. 

 

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8609

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topics: Civil partnerships, Family law

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