The Government is to carry out a wide-reaching review of civil partnerships, which is expected to result in one of two very different outcomes.
Last week, the Home Office confirmed that it was looking into the current arrangements – which were introduced in 2004 and proved to be a staging post on the road to equal marriage.
Over a decade on, the number of people entering civil partnerships has fallen sharply – with the majority of same-sex couples now choosing to get married instead.
This has led some to suggest that the unions have served their purpose and should now be abolished.
Michelle Donelan MP is among those who believe that subsequent reforms have rendered the unions redundant and that they had not been devised as a permanent alternative to marriage.
Equally, quite a significant number of politicians and public figures have advocated that civil partnerships are opened up to opposite-sex couples as well.
They argue that closing the option off to those in a heterosexual relationship flies in the face of equality laws and doesn’t take account of the fact that, for one reason or other, some couples actually prefer the idea of entering into a civil partnership as opposed to a marriage.
Last Friday, the backbench MP Tim Loughton made the case in Parliament for taking steps to ensure that civil partnerships are open to everyone, arguing that the present situation had inadvertently created a “glaring inequality.”
Responding to his Private Member’s Bill, Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins promised that the Government would bring forward proposals on how the law should operate going forward.
“We are committed to resolving this issue, but we have to get some better evidence than we have at the moment in order to deal sensitively with the civil partnership issue,” she said.
The progress of the review will be keenly observed, not least because a number of couples have been involved in legal action in an attempt to force a change in the law.
Those pressing for reform often argue that they want access to the various legal rights that a formal union would afford them, but are uncomfortable with the institution of marriage, perhaps because there is too much “baggage” attached or because they believe it has links to a more patriarchal era.
Peter Martin, Head of the Family team at North London law firm OGR Stock Denton, said: “The whole debate about extending civil partnerships may well end up becoming a redundant one should same-sex civil partnerships be phased out, an expected eventual consequence of extending marriage to same sex couples.”
By way of comparison, civil partnerships were abolished in the Republic of Ireland once marriage was extended there to same-sex couples
Graeme Fraser, Partner at OGR Stock Denton, also Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, commented on the debate’s wider importance for cohabiting couples.
He stated: “It was very encouraging to note that Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness week has made an impact with MPs to the extent that the Minister responding was instinctively drawn to agree with educating people about their lack of rights.”