Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:58 am on 2nd February 2018.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 10:58 am, 2nd February 2018

I am very conscious that I must not comment on an individual case. The Government intend to get on with this piece of work, frankly regardless of whether the House permits this Bill to have its Second Reading, although I sense that it will not come to that. This piece of work will be commenced immediately because we are determined to resolve the matter.

The work to which we are committing involves four elements. First, we are committing to continue our existing work on assessing the relative take-up of civil partnership and marriage among same-sex couples. Since 2013, when marriage was introduced for same-sex couples, an increasing number of couples have chosen marriage instead of civil partnerships. We do not know, however, whether the current levels of demand will be sustained or whether they will change over time.

We currently have only two full years of data for civil partnership formation following the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. Given the scale and significance of the decision, it is proportionate to gather more data so that we can be sure that demand has stabilised. Our assessment is that we will have a proportionate amount of evidence by September 2019 to be confident in assessing the ongoing level of demand for civil partnerships among same-sex couples.

The second piece of work that we are committing to undertake relates to those already in civil partnerships. We continue to consider whether phasing out civil partnerships for same-sex couples is the best way forward. We want to approach the issue sensitively and delicately because it would be wrong to rush towards a decision without understanding how it would affect same-sex couples who continue to opt for a civil partnership and who do not wish to convert their civil partnership into a marriage. We are therefore committing to undertake research with same-sex couples to understand their motivations for forming and remaining in a civil partnership, and what they may do if the evidence drives us to remove them.

The third piece of work we are committing to is to undertake surveys to understand the demand for civil partnership among opposite-sex unmarried couples. Our previous consultations did not suggest that a significant number of opposite-sex couples wished to enter a civil partnership. Indeed, the most recent survey, which was conducted in 2014—admittedly, with a relatively small number of respondents—suggested that people would not wish for an extension of civil partnerships. But rather than relying on that survey, we want to conduct a thorough survey to ensure that our evidence is accurate and up to date when it comes to assessing the demand for civil partnerships from opposite-sex partners.

The fourth piece of work will be a review of what has happened in other countries when they have been faced with similar choices. This is an important part of the evidence base. Although drawn from a different social context, the experience of other countries gives us information on the choices couples actually make when offered the choice between marriage and another form of legal recognition, such as civil partnerships.