Labour’s Chris Bryant puts straight civil partnerships up for public vote
Out Labour MP Chris Bryant is considering backbench legislation for opposite-sex civil partnerships.
Mr Bryant, the Member of Parliament for the Rhondda, topped the private members’ bills ballot of MPs in Parliament, giving him a crucial chance to bring forward legislation.
The Labour politician has taken the unusual step of holding a public ballot for his constituents to decide the subject for his bill.
Among the six options proposed by Mr Bryant is legislation to bring about civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples.
The MP explained that his ‘Marriage Equality Bill ‘ would “allow civil partnership for mixed sex couples, include of mothers’ names on marriage certificates (in addition to fathers’) and [permit] the use of religious symbols in straight civil weddings (as is allowed in gay civil weddings)”.
His other mooted proposals include removing the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords, making assault on emergency staff an aggravated offence, and restricting TV advertising for high fat, high sugar foods before the watershed.
Though private members’ bills usually stand little chance of becoming law, all bets are off given the government’s already-slender majority.
Civil partnerships for same-sex couples were introduced under Tony Blair’s premiership in 2004 to allow gay unions ‘separate’ from marriage.
Following the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales in 2014, the government opted to preserve civil partnerships as an option for same-sex couples, rather than immediately close them off to new couples or abolish them.
However, the Conservative-led government subsequently ruled out changes to open them up to opposite-sex couples, keeping them exclusively for gay couples by default.
A legal challenge which is currently before the courts argues that they should be opened up to all couples too, but the government is resistant to doing so.
Recent data showed that demand for civil partnerships in England and Wales has near-entirely collapsed now that gay couples are able to marry.
The most recent data from the Office of National Statistics showed just 861 couples entered civil partnerships in 2015 – a drop of 85 percent from 2012, when 6,362 did so.
Proponents of civil partnerships say they remain a lifeline for people who may not feel comfortable entering a marriage for religious or personal reasons, but still want partnership rights.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently backed calls for opposite-sex couples to be able to enter civil partnerships.
He said: “I have written to [civil partnerships campaigner] Charles Keidan expressing my support of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign. I am passionate about achieving equality for everyone and this means giving mixed-sex couples the right to a civil partnership.
“I recognise that there are many reasons why some people may not want to enter into a traditional marriage, and agree that everyone should have the right to express their relationship in a loving union that works for them.
“I will express my support for the introduction of Equal Civil Partnerships to the government, should the Court of Appeal reject this couple’s application to form a civil partnership. All couples, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, should be equal before the law.”