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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 2nd February 2018.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Conservative, Chippenham 12:21 pm, 2nd February 2018

I apologise for spoiling the hon. Gentleman’s tweet, but I do not agree with him. Other Members have yet to speak, so I will make the case in the rest of my speech. I am sure I will answer him in full. Marriage is ended by divorce, whereas civil partnerships are ended by a dissolution, which is just as lengthy a process. We need to be clear about that, because some assume that it is easy to dissolve a civil partnership—it is not. There is no difference, other than that adultery cannot be cited as a reason for civil partnerships to dissolve—that is not a case for expanding them further. They both offer legal recognition of a relationship, they are symbolic, they are acts of union, and one does not have financial benefit over the other. Civil partnerships do not act as a form of additional co-habitation rights; they are legally the same as marriage.

Some say that civil partnerships are a modern alternative to marriage, and I recognise that argument, yet they are basically the same. It is important that we educate people about that and do not mis-sell the point. I have spoken to a number of people who have a civil partnership and they find it offensive to suggest these things are not the same. Nor are civil partnerships a stepping stone for couples who are not ready to marry; they are marriage but with a different name. Perhaps there is a misunderstanding that we need to address in the review.

Another point to make is that civil partnerships are not cheaper. That argument has not been made in today’s debate but I have heard it before. Weddings and civil partnerships can cost as much as people make them cost. Another argument used for the Bill is the claim that people can be put off by the word “marriage” and the connotations, social pressures and expectations of what it represents. Do we really believe that a significant number of people choose not to marry because of the word “marriage”, but are absolutely fine to make all the same legal and financial commitments when the name is different? The connotations, social pressures and expectations around marriage often exist because it is seen as something permanent and something that can end badly, but that is equally true of a civil partnership. As time progresses and more and more people have them, that will become known. So in a few years’ time will we offer a third option and then a fourth? It is also important to note that amending the eligibility criteria for entering a civil partnership would cost at least £3.3 million to £4.4 million, so the option on the table is not exactly cheap.

Another key aspect we must consider is the level of demand. That is particularly pertinent and the review will highlight it, which is why I strongly support having a review and a consultation. As lots of Members have said, two consultations have already taken place, but on the whole there was very little input from people. That suggests that there is a potentially a lack of demand in this area, but we need a further review to examine that. In addition, no clear consensus was established.

Since the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples, the number of civil partnerships has fallen dramatically, and there were just over 1,000 formed in the UK in 2016. Between 29 March 2014 and 30 June 2015, 7,732 couples converted their civil partnership into marriage. A key aspect for us to consider in enabling opposite-sex civil partnerships is—