In an earlier post we reported that concerns had been raised by Baroness Thornton, (Lab), regarding the bureaucratic nature of the process by which civil partnerships would be converted to a same sex marriage, and the requirement that these could only be carried out by a senior registrar. As a consequence, the draft Statutory Instruments which were due to be debated on 29 July, were withdrawn with an undertaking that revised versions would be tabled for debate in the autumn. In response to a subsequent question by Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) [30 July 2014 Vol 755 Column 1583], Baroness Northover said [emphasis added]
“We are indeed determined that the regulations will be in place by 10 December so that civil partnerships can be converted to marriages. As the noble Lord will remember, in the consultation prior to the Act, the emphasis that came through from people feeding in their views on this was that they wanted to make sure that their civil partnership was properly marked and could be translated into an equal marriage. They wanted that to be as straightforward as possible with as few hurdles as possible. That was what was built into the Bill.
As the noble Lord will know, since then some people have felt that they want to mark that transition. He will also know that the Bill and regulations allow ceremonies to be associated, but they want to make that link closer. We are determined to try to make sure that everything that people want in this situation can be done within the complexity that he is familiar with within the Bill. Indeed, we are determined to deliver this by 10 December, and we are happy to discuss those draft regulations.”
On 11th August 2014, Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD) gave a Written Answer to questions on marriage ceremonies asked by Lord Lester of Herne Hill: whether the government will ensure that registered civil partners wishing to undergo a marriage ceremony with religious elements receive equal treatment as same sex couples who are not registered civil partners and wish to marry in the same way; and why the Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014 bans the use of religious services at conversion. Lord Wallace stated [emphasis added]:
“The Government is committed to ensuring that couples wishing to convert their civil partnership in to a marriage can do so from 10 December 2014. The draft Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations 2014, which were laid in the House on 3rd July 2014, provide for a simple conversion process, which is not, and was never envisaged to be, a marriage ceremony . . . . The process was conceived in line with responses from those in civil partnerships to the public consultation in 2012, which called for a simple, straightforward and low cost way for couples to convert their civil partnership into a marriage . . . . the conversion process was not envisaged to be a process which would replicate a marriage ceremony, whether religious or secular, but was rather intended to be an easy administrative process by which couples converted their civil partnerships and had these recognised as marriages from the date the civil partnership was formed.
Couples who did want to celebrate the conversion with family and friends could choose to hold some form of non-statutory celebratory ceremony following the conversion itself, if they so wished. We continue to listen to the views expressed by stakeholders during the implementation of the Act. We have heard views articulated by stakeholders in recent weeks raising concerns with the conversion process as set out in the draft regulations as laid and in particular regarding the possibility of incorporating religious elements within conversions. We will consider these views and whether suitable options exist for addressing them within the legal framework established by the Act over the summer.”
From the legal point of view, the conversion process is essentially an interim measure directed at couples who entered into civil partnerships between its introduction in 2005 and the availability of same-sex marriage in 2014. Nevertheless, within this period a significant number of civil partnerships have been formed: latest data from ONS indicate that since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, there were 60,454 civil partnerships up to the end of 2012, i.e. 120,908 civil partners, an order of magnitude greater than the 11,000 to 22,000 civil partners estimated in the regulatory impact assessment. The ONS is currently examining the trends in civil partnerships, how marriages to same sex couples will change the statistics, and how this might best be reported, here and here.
With regard to the conversion process, government priorities appear to be: meeting the 10 December 2014 deadline; and reflecting the responses in its 2012 consultation. The delay caused by the withdrawal of the draft statutory instrument, and the potential complications associated with the introduction of a religious element are likely to limit the changes that may be introduced at this late stage. Furthermore, the potentially large number of couples wishing to convert their civil partnerships to same sex marriages may also preclude changing the proposed procedure unless present resources are augmented.
 Marriage of Same Sex Couples (Conversion of Civil Partnership) Regulations and the Draft Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (Consequential and Contrary Provisions and Scotland) (No. 2) Order 2014.
 There were ~183,000 civil marriage ceremonies in 2012, ONS data.