The House of Commons has overwhelmingly backed a plan to fast-track the introduction of civil partnerships for straight couples.
Parliament on Friday (October 26) gave its backing to backbench legislation from Tory MP Tim Loughton, who directs the government to open civil partnerships to all couples.
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 as a segregated form of union for same-sex couples, but campaigners called for them to be offered as a choice for all couples following the introduction of equal marriage in England, Wales and Scotland.
The government has already voiced support for opening up civil partnerships, after the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful to exclude straight couples.
Loughton’s bill presses the government to act within “six months” to bring forward the changes.
It sailed through the House of Commons on Friday. A formal division was not called, because MPs made clear their overwhelming support during a voice vote.
The bill, which was supported by MPs from across parties, states: “The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to civil partnership to bring about equality between same-sex couples and other couples in terms of their future ability or otherwise to form civil partnerships.
“Regulations under this section must give effect to such equality within 6 months of this Act being passed.”
The bill now moves to the House of Lords.
The six-month deadline would apply from the moment the bill gains Royal Assent, which the Equal Civil Partnership campaign says should be expected by “early 2019.”
In a message to supporters, the campaign group said: “Huge thanks to all of you who helped make this possible. [Minister] Caroline Nokes admitted that the Government would have opposed the Bill but for the huge support Tim Loughton MP had from other MPs.”
They added: “That is in a very great measure to do with the lobbying you have all done—the postcards, emails, phone calls and tweets have all helped to bring about this result. Thank You!”
Marriage and civil partnerships are largely identical in British law, although marriages are more likely to be recognised internationally.
There had been question marks about whether the civil partnership system would be slowly phased out of law, after the number of same-sex couples forming partnerships plummeted, but the government has remained committed to their future.
Prime Minister Theresa May announced on October 2 that she would extend civil partnerships to all couples.
Civil partnerships remain the only form of union open to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland.
No action can be taken within Northern Ireland to extend equal marriage due to the collapse of the region’s power-sharing Executive, though the UK Parliament passed a largely-symbolic vote in favour of extending marriage equality on Wednesday.