It has been 12 years since civil partnerships were first introduced into English law, yet they are apparently no less controversial than they were on day one, albeit for different reasons. Although the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was welcomed by most people, it certainly made the picture more complex for civil partnerships.
As the rate of conversion from civil partnerships to marriages is not at 100 per cent, simply doing away with them is no real solution. Additionally, you cannot force couples to change their relationship just to make things slightly neater for the government.
That brings us to the elephant in the room: the inherent unfairness in civil partnership law that was created when gay marriage was introduced. I said as much in this very publication on 12 January. I said that, as it stands, the law is ‘unfair’ and ‘discriminatory’, and I stand by that assessment.
And I am not alone on this point. I was honoured to have my words in Solicitors Journal read out in parliament this month. Conservative MP Tim Loughton wanted to make civil partnerships available to all couples, and as part of his argument he cited some of my remarks in that SJ article: ‘To some couples the concept of marriage is outdated. They do not wish to marry but equally seek a legally recognised civil union where vows and promises to each other are not required.’
Unfortunately, the motion was adjourned until March, so any solution has been delayed.
Straight couples should have every right to enter a civil partnership if they do not feel marriage is for them. Equally, religious couples may feel that the requirement to also have a civil marriage intrudes upon their religious commitment. A civil partnership would give them all the legal rights necessary without the implication that their religious wedding did not count.
Getting rid of civil partnerships, either at once or gradually, is not a workable solution at all. They exist in the law and must be retained. At the same time, they cannot continue to be exclusive to the gay community. In order for true fairness and equality to exist, they must be opened up to anybody who wants one.
Although parliament was unwilling to do the right thing on this occasion, surely it will realise that this is the only way to solve the problem. With any luck, this realisation will come sooner rather than later.
Marilyn Stowe is senior partner at Stowe Family Law