New consultation from Government Equalities Office
On 10 July, the Government published plans for extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples by the end of this year. The Government’s intention to introduce opposite-sex civil partnerships was announced in 2018, and yesterday’s Press Release concerns the “next steps for opposite-sex civil partnerships”; these include “a consultation on how to ensure couples in England and Wales can access the form of legal union that best suits them”.
The consultation “will seek public opinion on giving opposite-sex couples an opportunity to convert their marriage into a civil partnership, and then bringing all conversion rights to an end. Providing a period for conversion will allow opposite-sex couples the opportunity to access the legal relationship that was not previously available to them”.
This follows the announcement by the Prime Minister that from December, civil partnerships that have been available to same-sex couples since 2005, will be extended to opposite-sex couples. The Press Release notes that “[b]y law, the Secretary of State is required to consult before making regulations relating to conversion rights”.
Extracts from the Consultation and from some of the associated documentation are reproduced below; the Consultation closes at midnight on August 20th.
“The government is committed to changing the law by 31 December 2019 to allow opposite-sex couples to form civil partnerships. This next steps policy paper outlines the government’s plans for extending eligibility and the range of rights and entitlements that should be made available to opposite-sex civil partners.
We are also seeking your views on the future of conversion rights. At present, same-sex couples can convert their civil partnership to a marriage, enabling them to transition to a form of relationship that was not previously available to them. We are seeking views on whether opposite-sex married couples should similarly have an opportunity to convert their relationships to a civil partnership. The Consultation also asks whether all conversion rights should then be brought to an end.
The next steps policy paper and Consultation are both contained in the document below.”
- Civil Partnerships – Next Steps and Consultation on Conversion
- Privacy Notice
- Civil Partnerships – Impact Assessment
- Annex 1 Exploring the Potential Uptake of Opposite Sex Civil Partnership
- PSED Opposite-Sex civil partnerships
Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Formation and Dissolution of Civil Partnerships
Chapter 3: Religious protections
Chapter 4: Gender Recognition
Chapter 5: Parental Rights
Chapter 6: Financial Entitlements
Chapter 7: Recognition of relationships
Chapter 8: Conversion rights – interim position
Chapter 9: Implementation
Annex A: Consultation on civil partnerships: the future of conversion rights
“Chapter 3: Religious protections
39. With [paras 34 to 38] in mind, we intend to change the law in the following ways:
i. Ensure that no religious organisation or individual minister can be compelled to host or participate in civil partnerships (whether between a same-sex or an opposite-sex couple), to seek approval of their premises for the registration of civil partnerships, or to provide religious consent to the approval of premises.
ii. Enable religious organisations to seek approval of their premises for the registration of either same-sex, or opposite-sex civil partnerships, or both. As now, the governing body of the relevant religious organisation will need to provide consent before religious premises can be approved as a place at which civil partnership ceremonies can be held. Where religious premises are already approved for civil partnership ceremonies, these existing approvals will be applicable to same-sex civil partnership only, and a religious organisation will need to seek a further approval from the registration authority if it wishes to host civil partnerships between opposite-sex couples.
iii. Ensure religious organisations or individual ministers do not find themselves in breach of the Equality Act 2010 if they refuse to attend, or participate in, civil partnerships on religious premises, because the civil partnership is between a same-sex couple or an opposite-sex couple.
iv. Where employment is for the purposes of an organised religion and the requirement is necessary to avoid conflict with the religion, we will amend the Equality Act 2010 to enable employers to impose occupational requirements that a person must not be in a civil partnership with either a person of the same sex or the opposite sex.
40. As there is no Canon law of the Church of England or Church in Wales that would be affected by the civil partnership changes, there is no need for any protections relating to that law.
41. These protections will not apply to civil partnership registrars. They perform a secular function and, like marriage registrars and superintendent registrars, should not be able to refuse to participate in either same-sex or opposite-sex civil partnerships on grounds of their religion or belief. A handful of religious ministers are also designated as civil partnership registrars, and when they are performing this secular function they will not be able to refuse on faith or belief grounds”
“Chapter 8: Conversion rights – interim position
89. Annex A to this document seeks views on whether to make changes to the existing right to convert a civil partnership to marriage and whether to introduce a new right to convert a marriage to a civil partnership. This chapter sets out our position on conversion rights in the short-term, pending the outcome of the consultation.
90. The 2013 Act enables same-sex couples in a civil partnership to convert that partnership into marriage. This was to allow such couples to enter a type of relationship that had not previously been available to them, without first having to dissolve their civil partnership. This right is still available to same sex couples, even if they formed their civil partnership after the introduction of same-sex marriage. This is to allow for cases where one partner changes gender, as currently they would not be able to remain in a same-sex civil partnership (see Chapter 4) and would instead have to convert that relationship to a marriage.
91. Annex A explains that any longer-term changes on conversion are unlikely to come into force until later in 2020, given the need to await the outcome of the consultation and the time needed to make the necessary legislative and operational changes. Until that time, we intend to maintain the current position, so that only same sex couples will be able to convert their civil partnerships to marriage. This approach avoids making short-term changes that might have to be undone when the longer-term position on conversion rights is decided, following the consultation.
92. We have taken the views of key stakeholders (including those campaigning for equal civil partnerships, organisations representing the LGBT community and faith organisations) to inform our position on conversion rights.
Chapter 9: Implementation
93. All of the regulations under the 2019 Act are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which means they will be debated in both Houses of Parliament before they come into force. We intend to lay these regulations in Parliament in the autumn, although any regulations relating to our longer term position on conversion rights would follow at a later stage, as these will be shaped by the consultation.
94. The 2019 Act requires the Secretary of State to bring the regulations changing the eligibility criteria into force no later than 31 December 2019. We are not able to state at this stage precisely when the first set of reforms will come into force, and when the first opposite-sex couples will be able to give notice of their intention to form a civil partnerships. This is because of the need for Parliamentary time – and approval – for the regulations to come into force.
95. We are working to introduce these changes at the earliest opportunity. It is our aim that opposite-sex couples will be able to both give notice and register their civil partnerships before the end of the year.
96. The General Register Office (GRO) has overall responsibility for implementation of the new provisions, which will be delivered across 173 local authorities in England and Wales. Some changes to GRO computer systems will be necessary to allow for opposite-sex couples to form civil partnerships but the requirements and processes, such as giving notice, will not change.
97. Non-religious premises which are already approved for civil marriage and civil partnerships will automatically be available to all couples who wish to form a civil partnership once the new regulations are in force. Religious premises which are already approved for the formation of civil partnerships for same-sex couples will be able to apply for their premises to be approved for the formation of civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples, subject to providing the necessary consents.
98. GRO will ensure that all local authorities have any necessary guidance or training material in time for implementation.”
[References to the 2019 Act relate to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 which we reviewed here.]
Some aspects of this policy paper and the development of civil partnerships will be reviewed in a guest post, to be published within the next few days.