The Scottish Government have today (22nd September) published their consultation on the future of civil partnership. This was promised by the Government back in 2013 when the equal marriage legislation was going through the Scottish Parliament. The consultation is open for responses until 15th December.
We were expecting the consultation to ask for views about three options:
- No change: civil partnerships would continue to be available to same-sex couples only, meaning that mixed-sex couples continue to only have the option of marriage, while same-sex couples can choose either marriage or civil partnership
- Phase out civil partnership altogether on a certain date, so that from then on, only marriage is available, to all couples regardless of gender
- Open up civil partnership to mixed-sex couples so that both marriage and civil partnership are options open to all couples regardless of gender
We are very disappointed to see that, in advance of the public consultation, the Scottish Government have already announced in the consultation paper that they are not in favour of option 3. As a result, the consultation paper is unbalanced, in that the main part of it lists the arguments in favour of and against options 1 and 2, but does not list the arguments in favour of option 3, only the arguments against. And the consultation questions are also unbalanced, with more focus on options 1 and 2. However, the paper does ask for views on the Government’s position on this.
We are surprised as well as disappointed, because in our view, option 3 is the one that embodies the values of both equality and diversity, since it treats all couples the same, while maximising diversity and choice. In our view the Scottish Government have failed to fully embody those values in this consultation, by opposing option 3 from the start.
However, the consultation does still ask about all three options (although in an unbalanced way). We therefore strongly encourage you to respond to the consultation. Question 5 is the one where you can say whether you support option 3 (opening up civil partnership to all regardless of gender), and why. If it would be useful, below we have outlined our position on the issue. We will be publishing more information about this over the next four weeks, well before the consultation deadline of 15th December. You can submit a consultation response here at any time up to 15th December.
The Equality Network’s position
Opening up both marriage and civil partnership to all couples regardless of gender has always been a core aim of the Equality Network’s equal marriage campaign since we launched that campaign in 2008. It is also the position of many other equal marriage campaign partners.
We would have preferred equal civil partnership to have been introduced in the same bill as equal marriage, passed in 2014, but that was too much for one bill. We consider equal civil partnership to be key unfinished business of the equal marriage campaign.
We do not believe that option 1 (no change) is fair or sustainable. It is wrong that mixed-sex couples can only choose marriage, while same-sex couples can choose marriage or civil partnership. That is not equality; it is sexual orientation discrimination.
We do not believe that option 2, phasing out civil partnership, is the right solution to the inequality. It would restrict the choices of same-sex couples in future, because civil partnership would cease to be an option. We know from our consultation and survey work that some couples prefer civil partnership to marriage.
Rather strangely, the Scottish Government appear to propose, under this option, to continue to recognise same-sex civil partnerships registered in other countries (but not mixed-sex ones). That means that a same-sex couple would no longer be able to register a civil partnership here in Scotland, but could do that in another country and their civil partnership would be recognised here in Scotland with full partnership rights. Mixed-sex couples would not have that option however, so discrimination would continue.
In our view, option 3, opening up civil partnership to couples regardless of their gender, embodies respect for both equality and diversity.
As the Scottish Government acknowledge in their consultation paper, in countries where civil partnership and marriage are both available to all couples, and have similar legal effects, there is a continuing demand for civil partnerships. Our consultation, with both LGBTI and non-LGBTI people, confirms that a significant minority would prefer civil partnership to marriage.
Opening up civil partnership would be popular. Our consultation with 700 LGBTI people and 500 non-LGBTI people found that 80% of both groups wanted civil partnership opened up to all (option 3). Amongst bi and trans people, support for this was 90%. Only 16% overall thought that civil partnership should be phased out (option 2), and fewer than 2% thought that the law should remain as it is (option 1).
We also commissioned a Scotland-wide opinion poll, conducted by Ipsos MORI, which asked “Do you agree or disagree that civil partnerships, which are currently only available to same-sex couples, should also be available to heterosexual couples”. 71% of the representative sample of 1003 people across Scotland agreed.
Opening up civil partnership to all couples regardless of gender would also be very useful for trans people. At the moment, where a trans person is in a civil partnership, they cannot get gender recognition (that is, legally change their gender) without first either dissolving their civil partnership or converting it to a marriage. That is because gender recognition would change their same-sex civil partnership into a mixed-sex one which is not allowed. If civil partnership was available to all regardless of gender, trans people in civil partnerships would no longer be blocked from gender recognition.
It is not surprising therefore that support for option 3 is 90% amongst trans people. It is also 90% amongst bi people – for a bi person who might expect in future to have a relationship with a person of any gender, it seems ridiculous that the legal relationship options available would be different depending on the gender of that future partner.
Opening up civil partnership to all couples regardless of gender would also have the advantage that all couples who move here, who have registered a civil partnership in another country, will have their partnership recognised here. At the moment, if you are a same-sex couple in a civil partnership registered in for example the Netherlands, then your partnership is recognised in Scotland and you have full partnership rights. But if you are a mixed-sex couple who registered the same civil partnership in the Netherlands, you have no partnership rights in Scotland at all.
In our consultations, people told us why they thought civil partnership should be available to all. Here are some examples of several hundred replies:
“I think some couples want the legal benefits or security of being in a civil partnership, but marriage may have negative connotations for them as it was originally (and often still is) a religious and misogynistic institution. I think it’s only fair that all people have this option, regardless of whether they’re in same- or opposite-sex relationships.”
“Everyone should have equal access under legislation. Not everybody believes in marriage or the religious undertones attached to it.”
“Marriage comes with many traditions, teachings and connotations that I heavily disagree with. Not wanting to be part of that system means that I will not get married. However, that will mean that I don’t have the same rights as a married person even if everything else about our lives is exactly the same. A civil partnership would allow me to live a better, fairer life without compromising my beliefs and values. It allows me the option of making a formal partnership with my significant other and it being seen as a true partnership. ”