UK plan to extend civil partnerships revealed in government report



A confidential report drawn up for the former equalities minister Justine Greening proposed extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples and building “a consensus for legislation”, according to internal policy documents seen by the Guardian.

The briefing has emerged ahead of a legal battle at the supreme court on Monday where a London couple, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, will try to overturn the government’s refusal to enable heterosexual partners to enter such legal arrangements. Only same-sex couples may become civil partners.

The 10-page document, marked “sensitive”, was drafted in spring 2017 by civil servants working for Greening when she was education secretary and minister for women and equalities. She resigned in January this year during a cabinet reshuffle.

Her support for extending civil partnerships was known but the policy was swiftly reversed after she left office. The memorandum shows that plans were well advanced to concede to Steinfeld and Keidan’s legal campaign.

Entitled Options for Extending Civil Partnerships to Opposite-Sex Couples, its recommendation was to “pursue a handout bill in the 4th session (2018-2019) to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, subject to the policy issues in this submission being resolved”.

“There are some complex changes that will need to be worked through here, particularly around pensions and devolution,” it said. “We do not think that most of these will be a permanent barrier to extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, but it will take some time to work through these consequences before changing the law.”

It noted there could be a £3.3bn bill to equalise occupational pension rights, that three references would need to be changed in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and that work should be done on recognising foreign opposite-sex partnerships. It urged efforts be made to “build a consensus and smooth the passage of legislation through the House”.

In the three and a half years since they launched their legal claim, Steinfeld and Keidan have had two children, Ariel and Eden. The couple’s commitment to equality and rejection of marriage because of its patriarchal associations is such that rather than give thema double-barrelled surname they have the fused family name of Keidstein.

They said that having children has reinforced their belief in the importance of their campaign. There are 3.3 million unmarried, cohabiting couples in the UK who have no legal partnership rights. “It’s the fastest growing family type,” said Keidan. “The way for the government to take responsibility is to give those couples the opportunity to form civil partnerships.”

Steinfeld, 37, said: “This is a pro-family measure and people from across the political spectrum have called for civil partnerships to be recognised, including the former families minister [the Conservative MP] Tim Loughton.”

With two young children, Steinfeld said she is now “keenly aware of the vulnerability of our situation” because there is no legal protection of any family rights. “If we were to separate or to die we would not have access to one another’s pensions and would be subject to inheritance tax immediately. If we owned a home, we might have to sell it.”





Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfield



Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfield: ‘We hear from couples up and down the country who want to form civil partnerships.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

They also realise they are not alone. “We hear from couples up and down the country who want to form civil partnerships,” said Keidan, 41, who edits a magazine about philanthropy. “Many have been together far longer than us.”

An online petition calling for civil partnerships to be open to all has so far attracted 127,000 signatures.

Steinfeld and Keidan lost in the high court and in the court of appeal by a margin of two judges to one, but the ruling warned that in the long run the government’s wait-and-see approach was discriminatory, saying “one legal regime for different-sex couples but two legal regimes for same-sex couples will ultimately be unsustainable”.

The only jurisdiction in the British Isles that permits opposite-sex civil partnerships is the Isle of Man. Some couples have travelled there for ceremonies, but their unions are not recognised in the UK.

Other countries such as South Africa, New Zealand and the Netherlands allow couples to choose either civil partnership or marriage. In the Netherlands last year there were 64,400 marriages and 17,900 civil partnerships, suggesting there is demand for both arrangements.

Abolishing civil partnerships for same-sex couples to end the discrimination could mean dissolving legal ties that unite 63,000 gay couples – a course of action that would trigger political furore and legal uncertainty.

Even the Marriage Foundation supports extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, believing they are “infinitely preferable to unthinking and risky cohabitation”.

David Cameron, when prime minister, opposed extending sex civil partnerships on the grounds that it would undermine the institution of marriage.

Steinfeld, who works in reproductive health,said: “It’s lamentable that the government is throwing up all this smoke and mirrors but hasn’t really done anything. If it opted to abolish civil partnerships that would be vindictive and regressive.”

The women and equalities minister is now the international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt. Her department declined to comment on her predecessor’s policy document.

An Equalities Office spokesperson said: “This government introduced civil partnerships as a way of recognising same-sex relationships before same-sex marriage was available. We are proud to have now introduced same-sex marriage. We will consult before making changes to the law around civil partnerships. The policy paper published [this month] will inform and shape a future consultation on civil partnerships.”



Source link

 


Loading ....
 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *