Peter Tatchell: Civil partnerships were a form of legal segregation and are still unequal
Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has called for reform to civil partnership laws, as the UK marks the tenth anniversary of the change.
Civil partnerships, introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government, allowed same-sex couples to register their unions through a system kept entirely separate from marriage. The first couples did so ten years ago today.
The system was designed so that civil partnerships would only be open to same-sex couples, and marriage only open to opposite-sex couples – though same-sex marriages eventually began nine years later, in 2014.
The UK government and Scottish government have both consulted on the potential future of civil partnerships – but are unable to reach a consensus on a plan of action.
Campaigners including Peter Tatchell continue to call for them to be opened up to heterosexual couples as a civil alternative to marriage.
Mr Tatchell explains: “Civil partnerships were an important, valuable advance in 2005. For the first time in UK law, same-sex couples were able to secure legal recognition and rights.
“But civil partnerships were never about equality. They were a form of legal segregation to avoid having to concede the demand for equal marriage.
“Civil partnerships still embody inequality. They enshrine pension inheritance discrimination.
“In the event of a civil partner dying, the surviving partner does not have the same right as a married heterosexual person to inherit their deceased partner’s full pension. This can leave them much worse off financially.”
He continued: “The current law discriminates by banning opposite-sex couples from having a civil partnership. If heterosexuals want a civil partnership, the law should not deny them that choice.
“In a democratic society, we should all be equal before the law.
“The irony is that same-sex couples now have two options, civil marriage and civil partnership; whereas opposite-sex couples have only one option, marriage. That’s neither fair nor right.
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”Some heterosexual and gay couples prefer civil partnerships because they don’t like the sexist, patriarchal history of marriage and the language of husband and wife.
“They see civil partnerships as more modern and egalitarian, without the negative traditions and connotations of matrimony. If opposite-sex couples want a civil partnership, why not?”
The law itself faces an uncertain future, as the number of new registered partnerships has collapsed following the introduction of same-sex marriage, and many existing civil partners have opted to convert.
Some have suggested the law be ‘grandfathered’ or phased out over time – closing off partnerships to new couples as interest naturally declines.
However, Mr Tatchell insists the law should stay in force, for as long as couples desire an alternative to marriage.
He said: “The retention of civil partnerships and their opening up to mixed-sex couples had overwhelming support in the government’s major public consultation in 2012.
“They should remain and be inclusive to cater for the many couples – LGBTI and straight – who object to the heterosexist, patriarchal history and traditions of marriage.
“Even if only a minority of couples want a civil partnership, this alternative option should be available to them.”