More than one year after the Supreme Court decided law preventing opposite sex civil partnerships is incompatible with Human Rights, the Government has announced this should be possible by the end of 2019. A six week consultation will also look at giving married people the chance to convert to civil partnerships.
Marriage, in more or less the form that we recognise it today, has been available to opposite sex couples for hundreds of years. The introduction of Civil Partnership in 2005 was, in England and Wales, the first opportunity for same sex couples to enter into any legal union together. From 29 March 2014, same sex couples have also been permitted to marry and civil partners have been able to ‘convert’ their partnerships to marriage.
Notwithstanding the similarities between Marriage and Civil Partnerships, they flow from different statutes and law, so they are not identical. It could be suggested that, to an extent, these institutions are reflective of the varying societal norms or values in existence when the relevant laws were made (e.g. Civil Partnership Act 2004, Marriage Act 1949 with the first Marriage Act 1753). For example, marriages are recorded on paper in a hard copy register whereas the civil partnership register is electronic, marriage certificates record the parties’ father’s names but civil partnership certificates record the names of both parents of the parties. Further, marriages can be annulled if at the time of formation the respondent was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form, but civil partnerships cannot be annulled for that reason. Moreover adultery can be relied on to bring a marriage to an end (divorce) but it is not possible to dissolve a civil partnership for that reason.
In recent years, there have been numerous campaigns for equality for all – so that both same sex and opposite sex couples can choose which, if any, legal institution they wish to enter into. The government consultation will seek public opinion on allowing people to convert their marriage to a civil partnership (in the same way that civil partners have been permitted to convert their partnership to a marriage) which, if also enacted, would represent a great step forward for equality.