Civil Partnership equality a step closer

Civil Partnership registration for all is a tiny step closer for people in England & Wales as the Prime Minister confirmed reform is on its way in an interview with the London Evening Standard this morning, during the Conservative Party Conference.

Theresa May told the paper, “As Home Secretary, I was proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage. Now, by extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life.”

It’s not her own bright idea. A change to the law was mandated by the courts earlier this summer.

Mixed-sex civil partnerships were included in the original civil partnership bill more than ten years ago, but were removed by the then Labour government before pressing ahead with the legislation.  As a result, since 2004 they have been limited to same-sex couples.

Despite legal and social differences between marriage and civil partnership, for some time this situation was then defended as constituting equality in a ‘separate but similar’ form.

During the 2010-2015 Conservative / Lib Dem coalition, the Liberals’ proposal for marriage and civil partnership to be opened up regardless of gender lost its civil partnership reforms as neither Labour nor Conservative groups in Parliament would add their support.

Since the introduction of near-equal same-sex marriage in Wales, Scotland and England in 2013, civil partnerships have become something of a peculiar anomaly, only open to same-sex couples, while marriage is more widely an option. This prompted the court case this summer.

However the Supreme Court ruling earlier in that case at last overrides that previous lack of political will. One option, talked about widely at the time of the same-sex marriage bill, would be to end civil partnerships and convert them to marriage – but simply scrapping civil partnerships is hard for two reasons.

First, an expectation that civil partnerships would fade away with the introduction of same-sex marriage has proved unfounded. This suggests many people still want a way to have their relationship formally recognised without the sexist stigma that marriage carries for some.

Second, in Northern Ireland they are still the only option for same-sex couples due to the DUP’s diligent work blocking measures in the Stormont Assembly to introduce same-sex marrage.

So we will have both systems of partnership recognition, with another bit of the discrimination removed. Though we still don’t quite know when…