House of Commons Library

Civil partnership for opposite sex couples

Published Thursday, July 11, 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 3 of this briefing paper deal with the position in England and Wales. Part 4 deals with the position in Scotland.

Current position

At present, civil partnerships may be registered only by same sex couples. The legislation provides specifically that opposite sex couples are not eligible to register a civil partnership.

Civil partnership was introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to enable same sex couples to access very similar rights, responsibilities and protections as those afforded by marriage. At that time, 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. 

Same sex couples wishing to formalise their relationship are able to choose between marriage and civil partnership. Opposite sex couples do not have this choice at present.

Progress towards civil partnership for opposite sex couples

A separate Library briefing paper, The future of civil partnership (CBP 7586), 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 outlines 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 closes on 20 August 2019, seeks 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 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.

The Scottish Government now use 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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