Skip to main content

Next month, my bill to give opposite sex couples the same choice of marriage or civil partnership that is currently only available to same sex couples will get its second reading.  And, having been the top Conservative in the recent private members bill ballot I am fortunate enough to have a real chance of success.

Thanks to the Same Sex Marriage Act introduced in 2013 by the then Conservative-led Government, all couples have the right to marry, but that legislation failed to give opposite sex couples a parallel right to a civil partnership.  That is self-evidently unfair.

For many in the Conservative Party  that should be in itself reason enough to support my proposal.  For others, they may be swayed by the contention that it is not for the State to interfere in our personal relationships.  While still others may feel marriage carries too much baggage to be the only option for those wanting to commit to a partner.

While I am more persuaded by some of these arguments than others, for me it is very simple: there are now 3.3 million unmarried couples in the UK, living together with shared financial responsibilities and over half of them with children.   They need protection and it is good politics for the Conservative Party to be the ones to offer it.

There are all sorts of reasons why these people may choose not to marry, from cost to bad experiences to personal choice.  Whatever we think of this choice, a Conservative Government has a responsibility to ensure that children and parents who give up paid employment to become caregivers are protected.  Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as common law marriage under UK law.  As a result, where one unmarried parent dies or a couple separates, there is no legal entitlement for assets or wealth to be shared, nor automatic tax relief as there is for married couples and same-sex civil partners.  Pensions may be lost and children – literally – rendered homeless.  

Providing the option of civil partnership for opposite sex couples will deal with such issues: children should not be placed at risk just because their parents aren’t married.  

I am optimistic about the chances for my bill: over eighty Parliamentarians, representing all the main parties, have publicly declared their support, including members of my own party as varied as Crispin Blunt, Graham Brady, Sir Peter Bottomley, Dominic Grieve QC and Caroline Spelman.  Meanwhile, the Opposition supported my previous attempt to amend the law in January 2017 and seem set to do so again.  

For the past three years, the Government has been engaged in a legal battle with a couple called Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, who would like to have a civil partnership.  In February 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that the current position was unfair and unsustainable, but by a 2:1 split ruling gave the Government limited time to decide on the future status of civil partnerships, allowing for the possibility that they ‘wither on the vine’.   

Personally, I don’t think it would ever have been good politics for Conservatives to abolish civil partnerships for same sex couples.   Now, however, the latest figures reveal why that option would be damaging by showing that there has actually been an increase in the number of same sex civil partnerships in England and Wales, from 861 in 2015 to 891 in 2016 despite same sex marriages being freely available.  In addition, the ‘conversion rate’ for civil partnerships into marriages has been very modest indeed.   Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have now been granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court and their case will be heard in May 2018.

My Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill is due to have its second reading on the 2nd February.  This is natural Conservative legislation, designed to correct an absurd inconsistency, which has crept into the law albeit for understandable reasons.  At a recent Bright Blue event, the former Equalities Minister, Justine Greening, answered a question on the topic by say that she was “all for equality”.  I hope the Government will now seize the opportunity to confirm that by announcing publicly that it will give my bill their full backing.

Tim Loughton is the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, and a former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families.  For further information see The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.