From 2 December 2019 opposite sex couples shall be able to give notice of civil partnership, to be registered from New Year’s Eve onwards.
Our blog post of 12 July “A step closer to opposite sex civil partnerships” examined the government’s announcement that opposite sex civil partnerships should be possible by the end of the year. Happily, on Fireworks Night this year, the Houses of Parliament approved the required regulations which should be effective from 2 December 2019 thus (taking the 28 day notice period into account), making a New Year’s Eve 2019 civil partnership ceremony an option for opposite sex couples.
Some may say the law has been slow to evolve. For same sex couples, there were no legally recognised options for relationships until civil partnerships were introduced from 21 December 2005. It then took almost a decade before same sex marriage was introduced (from 29 March 2014), with eligibility to convert a civil partnership to a marriage following from 10 December 2014.
One reason for the pace will be because the devil is in the detail. Where legislation drafted for one purpose, is then modernised, extended or otherwise amended to encompass another, a myriad of significant issues arise. In this case, these include parental responsibility and parenthood, gender recognition, financial benefits and entitlements and protections for religious organisations. For example, for scientific reasons relating to genetic contributions, opposite-sex civil partners are to be treated the same as opposite-sex married people (rather than same-ex civil partners) with regard to the presumption of paternity of children. People considering civil partnership as an alternative to marriage may be greatly assisted by consulting a specialist family law solicitor in advance, to ensure they are fully versed about the legal implications of each.
Notwithstanding this progress, the work to achieve full equality for same and opposite sex couples, marriage and civil partnerships, is not yet complete. Whilst same sex couples can convert their civil partnerships to marriage, opposite sex couples will not be so permitted, and will also be unable to convert their marriages to a civil partnership. There is concern that this distinction between the treatment of same sex and opposite sex civil partners amounts to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This has been debated in parliament with the government proposing it be accepted because (a) the right to convert civil partnership to marriage was necessary to allow same sex couples to marry without dissolving their civil partnership as marriage had been historically denied to them and (b) it is suggested that resolving the position on conversion rights for married couples will be a priority in 2020.
In any event, the Secretary of State has the power to make further provisions, and once the 2019 public consultation about conversion results have been analysed it would seem there is every possibility that there will be further changes to this area of law next year.
For expert advice on opposite sex civil partnerships, contact our family lawyers.
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