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Civil partnerships for all?

View profile for Philip Hoddell
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Earlier in the year, the Supreme Court ruled that English law was incompatible with European legislation in that it allowed same sex couples to enter into a civil partnership or get married, whereas mixed sex couples were confined to just the option of marriage. Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan campaigned for over 4 years because they wanted to enter into a civil partnership, rather than get married.  You can read my blog about it here.

There was some speculation at the time about how the government would respond. As the Supreme Court made clear, it could have just done nothing, but that would have led to a confused situation existing for everyone. Some commentators thought the answer was to abolish civil partnerships entirely, but it was pointed out that some same sex couples might not have wanted to get married even if the option had been available to them when they entered into their civil partnerships. 

Instead, the government has now announced that it will legislate to allow opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships too. This means that everyone in relationships will have the opportunity of either marrying or having a civil partnership. As I wrote at the time, if the then government had had the courage to just legislate for same sex marriage in the first place, there would not be any confusion that needed resolving. 

Reaction to the government’s announcement has been mixed. Some would like to see couples either get married or not, others have welcomed the extension of civil partnerships to everyone, suggesting that there are elements of the marriage ceremony which are off-putting to some people. 

I do not think the story has come to an end yet. There are quite a few technical difficulties involved in extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples and these will have to be overcome before the first such civil partnership can be formed. Further, and in the line with the usual law of unintended consequences, there have been suggestions that there are others who should also be able to enter into a civil partnership. An example has been given of two elderly sisters sharing a home and the concern that inheritance tax could lead to the survivor having to sell when the first dies – something which a civil partnership could help to avoid. Of course, it may be the problem is the inheritance tax not the nature of the relationship, but that is another campaign entirely.

For the time being, it is a question of watch this space, because change is unlikely to come soon. 

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