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Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill

When civil partnership was created in 2005, it was made available only to couples who are legally the same sex. That restriction is still in place today. Ever since civil partnership was first proposed, we have argued that it should be equally available for couples of any gender mix.

Marriage has been available to couples of any gender mix since 2014. Equal civil partnership is unfinished business from the equal marriage legislation.

In 2014, a mixed-sex couple in England, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, with the support of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, took the UK Government to court for discriminating against them by preventing them registering a civil partnership. In 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled that this discrimination is a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Scottish Government is required by the Scotland Act 1998 to fix laws that breach the European Convention, and introduced the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill to do that.

We welcome the bill, which opens up civil partnership to all gender mixes. It will also allow a trans person in a civil partnership to get a gender recognition certificate while continuing with the civil partnership. (At present, if one person in a civil partnership wants to get gender recognition, the partners either have to end their civil partnership or change it to a marriage)

The bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 30th September 2019. The Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has been the lead committee for the first two of the bill’s three stages in the Parliament.

Stage 1

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee invited evidence on the bill. We submitted written evidence, and also gave oral evidence (starting at 10:02:30).

The Committee then produced a report on the bill, welcoming it, and suggesting a couple of improvements. These included adding a way that a couple who are married can change their marriage to a civil partnership.

The Scottish Government replied to the Committee’s report, and then on 19th May 2020, the whole Parliament debated the principles of the bill, and unanimously agreed to let it go forward to stage 2.

Stage 2

At stage 2, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee considered amendments proposed to the bill.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP put forward amendments improving the short-term treatment, before the bill comes fully into effect, of non-Scottish civil partnerships .

The Scottish Government put forward amendments to allow marriages to be changed to civil partnerships, and also some small amendments to other areas of law to ensure that people in civil partnerships get the same legal rights and responsibilities as married people.

We produced a briefing on the amendments.

All the amendments were approved unanimously by the Committee at their meeting on 11th June.

Stage 3

The final stage of the bill, stage 3, was on Tuesday 23rd June. You can watch the debate here (approx 50 minutes long) or read it here.

One government amendment was proposed – a technical amendment to their previous stage 2 amendment allowing marriages to be changed to civil partnerships. The amendment was approved unanimously.

There was then a debate on whether to pass the bill, with all speakers supporting it, and a vote, which was unanimously in favour of passing the bill.

In late July, the bill will get royal assent and will become an Act of the Scottish Parliament (the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020). But it will not come into effect immediately. First, the Scottish and UK Governments have to issue some regulations to ensure that all related laws are in line with the new Act.

Also, National Records of Scotland have to update their IT systems to allow for mixed-sex civil partnerships.

The government Cabinet Secretary in charge of the bill, Shirley-Anne Somerville, said in the stage 3 debate that work on these things has already started. But it will take several more months. We will continue to press for it to be done as quickly as possible, but we currently do not expect equal civil partnerships to be in effect until early in 2021.