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Government confirms it will introduce civil partnership legislation in next parliamentary session

Consultation will precede bill

The Government has confirmed that it will introduce legislation in the next Parliamentary Session to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. A consultation will precede the legislation.

The confirmation appears in the Ministry of Justice's report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government's response to Human Rights judgments 2017–2018. The report deals directly with the steps made by the Government following the Supreme Court's judgment in R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for International Development [2018] UKSC 32.

In the Supreme Court the Secretary of State had argued that any inequality in treatment between same-sex and opposite-sex couples argued that could be addressed by either extending the right to form a civil partnership to opposite-sex couples or by abolishing or phasing out civil partnerships. The ongoing difference in treatment was therefore justified by the need to take time to decide how best to eliminate it. The Court found that taking time to evaluate whether to abolish or extend civil partnerships did not constitute a legitimate aim as there is an insufficient connection between that aim and the discriminatory treatment, which the Secretary of State is required to justify. The Secretary of State had also failed to show that a fair balance had been struck between the interests of the appellants and those of the community. Accordingly, the Court made a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, to the extent that they preclude a different-sex couple from entering into a civil partnership, are incompatible with Article 14 taken with Article 8.

On 2 October 2018, the Prime Minister announced that the Government would legislate on the matter.

In the meantime Tim Loughton's Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill completed its Commons stages on 26 October and received its first reading in the House of Lords on 29 October 2018. A date has not yet been set for its second reading.
Clause 2 of the bill, which attracted cross-party support, provides:

"(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to civil partnership to bring about equality between same-sex couples and other couples in terms of their future ability or otherwise to form civil partnerships.

(2) Regulations under this section must give effect to such equality within 6 months of this Act being passed."

For the Ministry of Justice's report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, click here (the Steinfeld and Keidan judgment is dealt with on page 50).

22/11/18