Opposite-sex civil partnership and “illegitimacy”?

The Telegraph reports that Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who are to register their civil partnership today, New Year’s Eve, have been told by “an official” that they will have to re-register the births of their children. The article continues: “according to the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign group, town hall clerks appear to be applying this to the thousands of mixed-sex civil partnerships expected over the next year”. But is that what the law requires?

The version of s.9 (Re-registration of birth of legitimated person) of the version of the  Legitimacy Act 1976 on www.legislation.gov.uk currently reads as follows:

“(1) It shall be the duty of the parents of a legitimated person or, in cases where re-registration can be effected on information furnished by one parent and one of the parents is dead, of the surviving parent to furnish to the Registrar General information with a view to obtaining the re-registration of the birth of that person within 3 months after the date of the marriage or of the formation of the civil partnership by virtue of which he was legitimated.

(2) The failure of the parents or either of them to furnish information as required by subsection (1) above in respect of any legitimated person shall not affect the legitimation of that person.

(3) This section does not apply in relation to a person who was legitimated otherwise than by virtue of the subsequent marriage or civil partnership of his parents.

(4) Any parent who fails to give information as required by this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £2.” [emphasis added].

However, s.2 (Legitimation by subsequent marriage of mother and father) declares that:

“Subject to the following provisions of this Act, where the mother and father of an illegitimate person marry one another, the marriage shall, if the father of the illegitimate person is at the date of marriage domiciled in England and Wales, render that person, if living, legitimate from the date of the marriage.”

Further, it appears that the problem was foreseen by the Government Equalities Office in its policy document of July 2019, Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps, which stated:

“…We will amend the law so that a child of an opposite-sex couple is legitimate if their parents were in a civil partnership at the time of their conception or birth, or if their parents subsequently enter into an opposite-sex civil partnership. This mirrors the position with married opposite-sex couples” [at 55: our emphasis].

Paragraph 12 of The Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) Regulations 2019 made on 5 November 2019 introduced a number of amendments to the Legitimacy Act 1976 including this:

“(2) Before section 1(2) insert—

‘Legitimacy of children of civil partners

A1.—(1) A child is legitimate by virtue of a civil partnership between the natural parents of the child if, had the civil partnership been a marriage (and all other circumstances were the same), the child would have been legitimate at common law by virtue of the marriage.

(2) The presumption of common law that a child born to a woman during her marriage to a man is also the natural child of her spouse applies equally in relation to a child born to a woman during her civil partnership with a man’.”.

Note: these amendments have not yet been incorporated into the web version of the 1976 Act, although there is a link to them through the “Changes and effects yet to be applied to the whole Act associated Parts and Chapters” option.

Comment

We freely admit that we are not family law specialists: however, if the inserted section (Legitimacy of children of civil partners) means what it says (and fulfils the intent of the policy document) and the child of an opposite-sex couple who have registered a civil partnership “is legitimate”, why the need for re-registration? Unless, of course, legitimacy and birth registration are regarded by policy-makers as two entirely separate issues.

David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer

Cite this article as: David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer, “Opposite-sex civil partnership and ‘illegitimacy’?” in Law & Religion UK, 31 December 2019,

2 thoughts on “Opposite-sex civil partnership and “illegitimacy”?

  1. Someone has commented – helpfully – on Twitter: ‘Because some rights of the child (particularly in relation to nationality in some countries including the UK) derive from marital status.’

  2. I and my opposite-sex partner of 46 years are arranging for a civil partnership ceremony at the end of August 20. We are to see the registrar to submit our documents at the end of this month. We are both white English and have no previous marriages. We have one son now aged 45 years and we are both named on his birth certificate. Will a civil partnership grant him full legitimacy and do l need to submit a full birth certificate with our documents to achieve this?

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