Extending civil partnerships to different-sex couples

Extending civil partnerships to different-sex couples

Alison Green, partner at Mackrell Turner Garrett, looks at the issues underlying the campaign for the extension of civil partnerships.

On Wednesday 13 January 2016, a panel discussion took place at the House of Commons exploring the opening up of civil partnerships to different-sex couples.  I was a panel member together with former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP, Shadow Human Rights Minister Andy Slaughter MP, and Professor Robert Wintermute of Kings College London. Also in attendance were couples who have been affected by the current legislation.

The panel discussion was organised by a campaign calling for equal civil partnerships.  Tim Loughton MP’s Ten Minute Rule Bill seeks an amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA 2004) and will have its second reading on the 29 January 2016. There is also a legal challenge by way of judicial review of the CPA 2004 due to be heard on 18 and 19 January 2016 in the High Court.

CPA 2004 currently only allows same-sex couples to form a civil partnership and Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld have commenced the judicial review process because the current legislation prevents them, and many thousands of different-sex couples, from having the choice of forming a civil partnership rather than marrying. For the history and progress of the judicial review proceedings see here.

Background

Despite the myth of common law marriage, there are no automatic statutory rights for different-sex couples who live together, or indeed same-sex couples who cohabit and do not marry or enter into a civil partnership.  Unmarried different-sex couples are the fastest growing family type, increasing by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014.  While there are many reasons as to why it would be appropriate to extend the CPA 2004 to unmarried different-sex couples, three in particular are of significant importance:

The impact of relationship breakdown

An example would be a lady in her 50s who has been with her partner for about 30 years.  They lived in a property owned by him and they have a 19 year old daughter living at home and in employment.  She works part-time.  The relationship has broken down and she has been asked to leave what was the family home by her partner.  Given that the property is not

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