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I welcome the regulations, and I congratulate Tim Loughton on his campaign. I too called for the law to be changed, so I am delighted that the Government are finally introducing legislation that will put everyone on an equal footing.
Last year, I pointed out:
“The Government should have already legislated to ensure all couples have equality of choice.”
At the time, I called on the Government to
“take action and change the law to ensure all people have access to civil partnerships”.
I have no idea why it took so long. I have no idea why the Lib Dems and the Conservatives did not want this to happen a lot sooner. It was over a year ago— 16 months, in fact—that the Supreme Court ruled that restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples was discriminatory. The judges ruled that current UK laws were incompatible with human rights laws on discrimination and the right to a private and family life, so there was no reason for the delay. As the Minister said, there are 3.2 million cohabiting opposite-sex couples, and this is unfortunately another example of the Government dragging their feet on equality. Maybe it is a result of all the changes in Ministers and all the upheaval, but this foot-dragging on equality is unnecessary and quite costly. The Government seem to be letting a lot of people down when it comes to equality.
This change only came about because of the brave steps taken by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. In October 2014, the London couple tried to form a civil partnership at their local registry office in Chelsea Town Hall, but they were told that they could not do so because they were not a same-sex couple. They bravely took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, but they should not have had to do that. I would like to remind the House what Ms Steinfeld said outside the court. She said:
“We are feeling elated…But at the same time we are feeling frustrated the government has wasted taxpayers’
money in fighting what the judges have called a blatant inequality.”
When the Minister gets to her feet, perhaps she could explain to the House how much it cost the taxpayer to take this to court. It was the Lib Dem-Tory Government who decided not to do anything at a time when they could have just changed the law; if they had done so, we would not have had to go through all this.
As I have said, I am pleased with this decision, as it will give cohabiting opposite-sex couples the recognition that they deserve. It will provide stability and security, and ultimately allow couples to decide what is right for them in their relationship. It will give stability to families and children. I am looking forward to the election, because I hope that we will then be able to form a Government with a stand-alone Department for Women and Equalities and be able to push equality issues a lot faster than we have seen over the past 10 years.