2004 Civil Partnerships Act

The Civil Partnership Act was passed in 2004 by the then Labour Government, giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as married opposite sex couples in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Civil Partnerships were first introduced by the Liberal MP Lord Lester in 2002. It was later adopted into Government legislation under Tony Blair in 2004.

Although the Civil Partnerships Act was a surefire step forward for same-sex marriage bill legislation, this is of course only clear today in retrospect.

2004 was the same year that Spain had introduced its own same-sex marriage bill, and yet many were still uncertain as to where this idea of civil partnerships left UK lesbian and gay couples in terms of equality.

It was twelve years after OutRage! had first campaigned for the right of equal marriage, and while many LGBT organisations were ready to accept the Civil Partnerships option, Peter Tatchell and his colleagues continued their campaign for real marriage equality.

“We said that Civil partnerships were an important advance,” Tatchell writes, “but not good enough.”

At the time, the Bill was backed by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and Plaid Cymru. Conservative Party MPs were split on the issue, and the party leadership did not take a particular stance on the Bill, instead allowing its MPs a free vote.

This decision was described by some in the British media as an attempt to demonstrate a shift to a more inclusive, centrist approach under the leadership of Michael Howard, and as a departure from the alleged active opposition to LGBT rights under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith.

Conservative MPs split 67 in favour to 37 against at the Second Reading, and 43 in favour to 39 against at the Third Reading.

High-profile Conservative MPs who voted against the Civil Partnerships Bill included Iain Duncan Smith, Ann Widdecombe, Bob Spink and Peter Lilley.

Those who voted in favour included David Cameron, George Osborne and party leader Michael Howard. Around 30 Conservative MPs did not participate in any of the votes.

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