Civil partnerships are in the news…
England & Wales
In what it bills as an exclusive, the London Evening Standard reports that the Prime Minister has told it that civil partnership will be extended to opposite sex couples. The Government has evidently concluded that the simplest way to comply with the judgment in R (Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for International Development  UKSC 32 is to concede the point. The BBC subsequently picked up the story.
Martin Loat, chair of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign group, has already hailed it as an “important step forward”. He predicted that “Legislation would be fair, popular and promote stable families.” The Evening Standard adds that, as well as finally making the law equal, “the change will open up a new option for millions of couples who dislike the idea of traditional marriage but want full legal recognition of their relationship, which is vital to provide security for them and their children”.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is consulting on the future of civil partnership in Scotland. The consultation document notes the UK Supreme Court’s declaration in Steinfeld and Keidan that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the ECHR to the extent that it does not permit an opposite sex couple to enter into a civil partnership. Scottish ministers must not act in a way that contravenes Convention Rights and civil status is a devolved matter; and the Government has therefore concluded that legislation is needed to deal with the incompatibility identified by the Supreme Court – on the basis that the current restriction of civil partnership to same sex couples applies equally in Scotland as in England.
The Government is seeking views on two options for changing the law of civil partnership: either to close civil partnership to new relationships from a specific date in the future or to make civil partnership available to opposite sex couples. In the Government’s view, either option would be effective in ending the discrimination in the current law.
The consultation document notes [2.06] that matters relating to civil partnership, marriage and cohabitation are devolved and that the Scottish Parliament can make provision on who can marry or enter a civil partnership, the formation and ending of a civil partnership or marriage and the rights and responsibilities of spouses, civil partners and cohabitants in devolved areas (eg on financial provision when the relationship comes to an end); however, some matters, such as most issues in relation to pensions and benefits) are reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament [2.07].
The consultation closes on 21 December. The consultation document says that, following the consultation,
“the Scottish Government intends to legislate, by introducing a Bill into the Scottish Parliament, by making an Order under the Convention Rights (Compliance) (Scotland) Act 2001 or by way of a Bill in the UK Parliament with a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament” [1.05].
Presumably, the intention of option 3 is to deal with pensions and benefits issues as part of a single package.
One cannot help wondering to what extent the UK Government is still interested in legislating for Scotland on issues which are essentially subsidiary to areas that are devolved. On this occasion, however, the Prime Minister’s intention might well be to amend the 2004 Act across the board so as to bring the law in Great Britain into line with the law in Northern Ireland after Smyth.
I welcome this news, for what it’s worth, but wanted to register a concern for couples who are related to each other. For instance, we have two friends who are sisters and who have lived together all their lives. They could do with the protections civil partnership provides, especially over housing.
Is any group lobbying for their inclusion in civil partnerships?
I reckon it’s probably too late for that. You may perhaps remember the case of two unmarried sisters, Joyce and Sybil Burden, born in 1918 and 1925 respectively, who wanted to conclude a civil partnership but were refused on the grounds that they were within the prohibited degrees of affinity.
Their case went all the way to the ECtHR Grand Chamber and they lost: Burden v United Kingdom  ECHR 357. I somehow can’t see the UK Government changing its collective mind on this.