A bill that could lead to heterosexual couples gaining the right to enter civil partnerships has received an unopposed second reading in Parliament.
Since the introduction of gay marriage in March 2014, civil partnerships have been an option only available to same sex couples. This has been a source of some controversy and Londoners Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have conducted a long-running legal campaign for the right to enter a civil partnership and their case is due to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year.
Meanwhile, Tim Loughton, the Tory MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, proposed the bill which has now received provisional backing from the House of Commons, including government ministers. It would, he insisted, “correct an unintended but glaring inequality”.
However, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill would only commit the government to further consultation on the issue and to regulation “for equality”. Campaigners believe this wording could tempt the government to simply abolish civil partnerships for gay couples, rather than extending them to straight ones.
Campaigner Peter Tatchell explained:
“Any attempt by the government to abolish civil partnerships in the name of equality will be greeted with dismay by the LGBT community and provoke an almighty backlash. It will do catastrophic damage to relations between the Conservative Party and LGBT people.”
Other proposals featured in the bill include an ambitious transition towards an entirely electronic system for marriage registrations and the addition of the mother’s name and occupation alongside the father’s on marriage certificates.
The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill will now proceed to committee stage in the House of Commons for consideration in greater detail.
In a related development, newly appointed Lord Chancellor David Gauke has agreed to investigate the possibility of divorce law reform after senior figures in the judiciary called for an overall last month. The former solicitor told The Times:
“I acknowledge the strength of feeling on this issue and will study the evidence for change.”