On 10 July 2019, the Government Equalities Office published a policy paper and consultation called ‘Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps’ which highlighted and outlined the Governments plans to extend the eligibility to form a civil partnership to opposite-sex couples.
The draft Civil Partnerships (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 were laid before the House of Commons on 21 October 2019 and before the House of Lords on 22 October 2019. The draft regulations outlined that they would:
- amend the eligibility criteria in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to allow opposite sex couples to register civil partnerships under the law of England and Wales;
- amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to maintain the current position on conversion rights, so that only same sex couples would be able to convert their civil partnerships to marriage for now;and make consequential and related changes to primary and secondary legislation.
In order for the draft Regulations to proceed and become law they require the approval of both Houses of Parliament. Both Houses did in fact approve the draft Regulations on Opposite-sex Couples on 5 November 2019 which enabled the Minister to make the Regulations.
Section 2 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 required the Government to make and bring into force regulations to extend civil partnership to eligible opposite sex couples in England and Wales no later than 31 December 2019. The Government stated its intention to in fact implement the regulations on 2 December 2019, bearing in mind the usual 28-day notice period, this meant that opposite sex couples could for the first time register Civil Partnerships on 31 December 2019.
Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, the couple who fought for this right, commented:
“For us, this new institution, focused on equality and mutual respect, is a modern alternative to marriage. For as little as £46, civil partnerships provide legal status and financial protections for some of the three million cohabitating couples who don’t want to marry but do with to formalise their relationship.”
It is important to note that although opposite sex couples are now able to register Civil Partnerships they will not also be able to convert their Civil Partnerships to marriage the way that same sex couples are able to. However, this may not be a permanent decision and the Explanatory Memorandum for this states:
“This approach avoids making short-term changes ahead of the outcome of the public consultation on the future of conversion rights conducted earlier this year… Further regulations on conversion rights may follow next year, depending on the outcome of the consultation”
For more information please see the below:
- The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019
- House of Lords debate
- A briefing paper on the subject by the House of Commons Library
The author of this blog is Demi Demetriou, a legal clerk at the Family Law department.