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Public asked for views on extending civil partnerships

Heterosexual couples may soon be offered the chance to ‘convert’ their marriage to a civil partnership.

The Government Equalities Office has launched a public consultation to see how best to enable opposite-sex married couples, previously denied the opportunity to opt for a civil partnership, to swap the status of their relationship if they wish.

The move follows Theresa May’s announcement earlier this year that opposite-sex couples should be able to choose, in the same way as same-sex couples, between a civil partnership, which brings the same legal rights as marriage, and tying the knot.

Options

Penny Mordaunt, the minister for Women and Equalities, said: “There are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to marry, but for a long time it has been the only option for many wanting the legal security it provides.

“Last year the Prime Minister announced government would support the extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. This is a fantastic step, providing an alternative to marriage for these couples.

“We must now consider those who haven’t had this as an option previously, that’s why we’re consulting on whether opposite-sex married couples can convert their marriages to civil partnerships.”

Supreme Court ruling

The campaign to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples was led by Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, from London.

They took their battle to be allowed a civil partnership, which brings entitlement to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage, to the Supreme Court earlier this year.

Discriminatory

The couple, who never wanted to marry, felt a civil partnership fitted their beliefs and ideologies far better and argued that being excluded from having a civil partnership was discriminatory.

The Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only applies to same-sex couples – was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Consultation

Minister Penny Mordaunt added: “I know how long some opposite-sex couples have waited for this opportunity. We are determined to bring forward these changes at the earliest opportunity and hope to allow the first opposite-sex civil partnerships to take place by the end of this year.”

It is thought likely that, following the six-week consultation process which runs until 20 August, there will be a limited period of a year when couples can choose to change the status of their relationship if they wish with a fee involved for doing so.

Respond to the consultation called Civil Partnerships: The Future of Conversion Rights online by clicking here.

For more information and advice on this area of the law please contact our Family Law and Divorce team or our Cohabitation team.

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