Today saw the launching of the latest salvo in the Parliamentary battle to introduce civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples.  At present only same-sex couples can obtain a civil partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Tim Loughton introduced his Bill to the House of Commons this afternoon, entitled ‘Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.)’  and with the intention to: ‘provide that opposite sex couples may enter a civil partnership; to make provision about the registration of the names of the mother of each party to a marriage or civil partnership; to make provision about the registration of stillborn deaths; to give coroners the power to investigate stillborn deaths; and for connected purposes.’

The Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign welcomed the decision and noted that Loughton had come fifth in the ballot of bank bench MPs meaning his Private members Bill has a fighting chance.  I’m a little more cautious as this is a Bill blending together stillborn deaths and civil partnerships and the more complex you make a Bill the less likely you are to get consensus (by way of example see how brief the Government are desperate to keep the Brexit legislation).

The Parliamentary move follows the failure of the Steinfeld case to secure judicial review earlier this year.  In an act of apt timing, the Cambridge Law Journal published a piece today from Andy Hayward.  His brief case note provides a useful overview of the case but it’s his conclusion that makes for a stark warning.  He notes:

‘Steinfeld is a bizarre decision. Despite dismissing the couple’s challenge, the Court of Appeal unanimously stated that the current position is discriminatory and, with varying degrees of patience, all members of the court stated that the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely. On this basis, the litigants succeeded in a de facto manner; indeed, as Arden L.J. succinctly states, “the appellants are right” (at [16]-[17]). The Government clearly must make the next move. It would, however, be a cruel irony if such a move, precipitated by the Steinfeld litigants, involves removing the discrimination by simply abolishing access to civil partnerships for all couples.’

So, whilst we are seeing some attempts to extend Civil partnerships the Governments current ‘holding pattern’ of keeping civil partnerships under review may result in equality through the abolition of the Act rather than seeing those rights extended.  Given the rising administrative costs associated with CPs as the numbers entering the institution falls, it is entirely conceivable that the Government says as an ‘efficiency’ they are removing them, and reflecting the Conservative preoccupation with marriage.   Hayward is right to provide a warning when others find reasons to be optimistic today.

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