December 9, 2019
At just after midnight on Monday 2nd December, a new form of legal relationship came into being in England and Wales. For the first time, mixed-sex couples can choose to register their relationship as a civil partnership as an alternative to marriage, an option that was previously only open to same-sex couples.
The first civil partnership registrations can take place from 31st December 2019 and register offices throughout the country have been kept busy as couples rushed to give notice. One of the couples doing so was Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan whose fight for the right to have a civil partnership, a fight supported throughout by the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, led them to a win at the Supreme Court. They were joined by hundreds of couples today during the rest of the week, keen to give notice and be among the first to register their partnership.
After giving notice at Hammersmith and Fulham Register Office at 10.30 am on Monday 2nd December, Rebecca Steinfeld said, “I’m so happy and relieved that we’ve finally been able to give notice of our intention to form a civil partnership. It matters that feminists like me, in mixed-sex relationships, can through civil partnerships, formalise a relationship of equals.”
Charles Keidan added, “I’m really happy and proud to have played a role in giving birth to a new type of legal relationship and social structure – one which I hope will increase people’s happiness, well-being, choice and security. A civil partnership is the perfect expression of our values and relationship.”
Many other couples will have gone to bed on Sunday 1st December cohabiting and woken up to find themselves civil partners. Civil partnership equivalents entered into outside the United Kingdom automatically became a legal relationship at 00.01am on Monday 2nd December. Martin Loat, chair of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, who is, in fact in this position having registered his partnership with Claire Beale in the Isle of Man three years ago, said, “This is a truly momentous day. We are the very beginning of a totally new social institute and it’s exciting to be one of the first to enjoy this. We know from our supporters that this is a day that has been longed for and we look forward to seeing what will happen from now on with it.”
November 6, 2019
If you are looking for something special to commemorate a civil partnership, these specially designed bar brooches, endorsed by the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, might be the perfect item. The high quality hand-crafted brooches in sterling silver and copper can be bought from Dunn Jewellery via Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/736008340/equal-civil-partnerships-campaign-bar
The ECP campaign has worked with custom jeweller, Paul Dunn of Dunn Jewellery, to create a simple design specific to civil partnerships which we hope people will enjoy. The brooches are a perfect additional touch for the registration itself but can equally be worn every-day. Although designed to be engraved Civil Partner – working for both mixed and same-sex partnerships and gender neutral, the engraving can be personalised or left off.
To see and purchase the design go to https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/736008340/equal-civil-partnerships-campaign-bar
ECP campaign’s role has been purely advisory and the campaign has no financial affiliation with Dunn Jewellery nor does it receive any benefit or profit from the sale of the brooches. The campaign is also currently working with an enamel badge maker to provide an additional or alternative low-cost commemorative symbol.
November 6, 2019
Mixed-sex couples will finally be able to register civil partnerships in England and Wales starting from New Year’s Eve 2019 after secondary legislation was read and approved in the House of Lords on 5th November 2019. Couples will be able to give notice from 2nd December 2019 and the first civil partnerships can be registered on 31st December after the usual 28 days notice.
During the debate, Baroness Susan Williams explained that the bill was being passed without inclusion of conversion to/from marriage as that was a longer task following the consultation and there was a priority to ensure mixed-sex civil partnerships could happen by the end of 2019. She reassured the house that it was a priority for 2020.
Baroness Williams further confirmed that a bill to create opposite-sex civil partnerships was currently passing through the Scottish parliament. Until this bill has passed, civil partnerships formed in England and Wales will be treated as marriages in Scotland for legal and financial purposes. Afterwards, they will be recognised as civil partnerships.
In good news for Northern Ireland, Baroness Williams confirmed that both opposite-sex and same-sex civil partnerships will be able to be formed from 13 January 2020.
Martin Loat, Chair of the campaign, commented, “It has been a long journey through both the courts and parliament to get to this point. I’d like to pay tribute to everyone who has been involved in the campaign – especially Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan whose eventual win at the Supreme Court led us to this place, Tim Loughton MP who tenaciously took this on as a Private Members Bill, Baroness Fiona Hodgson who led the Bill through the Lords and of course all the supporters whose own testimonies have played a real role in the campaign. We are all delighted and relieved that the start date of 31st December can be adhered to.”
ECP campaign was very grateful for the kind and generous words spoken by members of the House during the debate.
In the words of Lord Cashman
“Let us get this through and allow those who may wish to take this wonderful opportunity—perhaps on 31 December or even 1 January—the luxury to say that in a country where we are equal, they celebrate the person they love regardless of the gender of that person.”
October 31, 2019
Victoria Atkins, Minister at the Home Office, has today confirmed, (31st October 2019), that mixed-sex civil partnerships will be able to take place in England and Wales by the end of the year.
“Our intention is to commence the regulations on 2nd December which would enable the first opposite-sex civil partnership ceremonies to take place on 31st December, given the usual 28 days notice period.”
Ms Atkins was speaking in the House of Commons during the reading and unanimous approval of the secondary regulations needed for the completion of the Bill. The final reading of the regulations will be heard in the House of Lords in the next few days.
During the debate, Ms Atkins confirmed that notice will be able to be given from 2nd December and in most circumstances, mixed-sex registrations can take place from 31st December. In cases of exceptional circumstances, such as terminal illness, the notice period may be able to be shortened or waived.
Ms Atkins further confirmed that civil partnerships already registered outside England and Wales, for example the Isle of Man, will automatically be recognised from 2nd December 2019. A list of countries and types of civil partnership can be found here http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukdsi/2019/9780111190784/schedule/1
Finally Ms Atkins confirmed that the General Register Office will be in contact with all register offices in England and Wales and make them aware of the new regulations and dates.
October 21, 2019
The Government has today confirmed its intention to introduce the law change we want on 2 December 2019. If this happens – and given the requirement to give 28 days’ notice for a civil partnership – this means that mixed-sex couples will be allowed to form civil partnerships from 31 December, as the relevant Act decrees.
However, these are uncertain times in Parliament and there is a risk of delay.
We have been warned that, should there be an General Election, the parliamentary time given to the Bill might be delayed. Unfortunately this is out of our – and the Government Equality Office’s – hands.
If there is a General Election, the regulations would come into force on the day after the day they are made (i.e. signed by the Minister following the debates). It is possible that could be after 2 Dec, meaning those giving 28 days notice immediately will have to wait until early Jan for their Civil Partnership.
Martin Loat, Chair of the ECP campaign said, “We are pleased and relieved to have this information from the Government, having waited since the Bill received Royal Assent in March. While we obviously can’t do anything about the timing of a General Election, we would be disappointed if it meant a delay in people being able to give notice for their civil partnership. But this could happen.
Our current advice for couples wanting to book an early civil partnership would be to be aware of the 28 day gap between the law coming in and the ability to actually make a Civil Partnership.
Some will want to await the final date to avoid later disappointment.
We are aware that some people have already booked for 31stDecember or early in January and our hopes are with you that all regulations will be completed by 2 Dec to allow that to happen.”
July 25, 2019
At ECP we have become aware that the costs for registering a civil partnership vary tremendously from council to council.
We understand that outside venues and more elaborate ceremonies will cause variations in price but we’ve found a basic simple witnessed registration can cost from £46 – the required price set by Government – to a far higher price at the will of the individual register office.
We’ve also found that there are usually restrictions on when a simple registration service can take place with the most restrictive only allowing them on Monday mornings – and the number of guests present – with the most restrictive only allowing two witnesses.
We want everyone to be able to safeguard their relationship and enjoy the protections that civil partnerships will bring to mixed-sex couples and want no-one to be put off registering their relationship through cost or time constraints or be forced to not include vital friends or family. We also want couples to enjoy the same freedom of choice throughout the country and not pay a higher price depending on their postcode.
We ask register offices to commit to our three point pledge for both mixed and same sex civil partnerships for the simple legal registration ceremony
- Standard fixed price £46
- Available to book at this price Mon-Fri 9-5pm
- Up to 8 guests including witnesses – in addition to the couple themselves
July 10, 2019
The campaign has received a statement from the Government department working on the implementation of mixed-sex civil partnerships.
“The government has today published a paper entitled Implementing Opposite-Sex Civil Partnerships: Next Steps setting out how it intends to implement opposite-sex civil partnerships by the end of this year. This includes important issues such as parental responsibility and parenthood, financial benefits and entitlements and the protections the government intends to put in place for religious organisations in relation to civil partnerships. The government’s approach is, wherever appropriate, to extend existing rights that apply to same-sex civil partners or opposite-sex married couples to opposite-sex civil partners. This document is not, therefore, a formal consultation.
The issue on which the government is keen to hear views is conversion into and out of marriage. The government is seeking views on proposals to introduce a new right for opposite-sex couples to convert from a marriage to a civil partnership for a limited period of time, before bringing this (and the existing right for same-sex couples to convert from a civil partnership to marriage) to an end. The consultation on conversion rights, Civil Partnerships: The Future of Conversion Rights, has also been published today and runs until 20 August.
The combined policy paper and consultation can be found here https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/civil-partnerships-next-steps-and-consultation-on-conversion
The government is not able to commit to a date for implementation of opposite-sex civil partnerships at this stage. The changes to the law extending civil partnerships and the associated rights and benefits to opposite-sex civil partners will be set out in regulations which are being prepared in parallel. These regulations will need to be debated in both Houses of Parliament before they can come into force. The government has, however, restated its aim that opposite-sex couples will be able to both give notice and register their civil partnerships before the end of the year. Any changes on conversion rights are likely to follow at a later date. This is to allow the government time to analyse the responses to the consultation and to permit the General Register Office to make the necessary changes to its processes and systems.
July 10, 2019
The Government has produced a paper today, announcing the next steps to be taken in the implementation of mixed-sex civil partnerships and a consultation around the issue of conversion from marriage to civil partnerships.
The Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign broadly welcomes the Government’s announcement today as it reveals much of the detail and thinking behind how the government intends to implement civil partnerships for all couples who want one in England and Wales by the legal deadline of 31 December.
For those of us who have campaigned long and hard for relationship equality without the need to get married, it is rewarding to see all the new rights around paternity, pension transfer and inheritance spelt out.
However, we are disappointed that no date has yet been set – or indicated – for when couples can actually register to have a civil partnership, apart from the end of year deadline. This appears to be for procedural and Parliamentary reasons that many will find frustrating.
The ECP Campaign is aware of hundreds of mixed-sex* couples who are planning to enter into a civil partnership at the earliest opportunity, but are unable to book a date at their local register office or “set a date to celebrate” as the government cannot yet say when the secondary legislation needed to enact the law change will be completed.
Martin Loat, Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign chair said:
“Not having a date is frustrating for couples who just want to form a legal union in a way that suits them. We urge the government to proceed as quickly as possible down the home straight so that these couples can get over the finishing line soon.
“Avoiding the familial and cultural trappings of marriage is often cited as a reason for wanting a civil partnership instead. So the ECP campaign also urges the government to ensure that the registration fees for having a mixed-sex civil partnership are kept as low as possible around England and Wales so that no couple is prevented from booking their civil partnership on grounds of cost.”
“We also think that the government should run a national advertising campaign when the time comes so that everyone understands the benefits and possibilities of having a civil partnership as opposed to co-habiting without legal protection or rights.”
The ECP Campaign welcomes the government consultation on the matter of opposite-sex married couples being allowed to convert their marriage into civil partnership. This affects a smaller group of people and by handling this separately into 2020 the government is not delaying the main introduction this year of civil partnerships for couples who do not yet have any legal rights.
The consultation deadline is 20 August.
The ECP campaign will be asking the government not to put a time-limit on when an opposite-sex couple can convert their marriage into a civil partnership, or to at least provide a long window of several years. This is to allow for couples to “come late to the party” on civil partnerships which might happen as this new element of our culture gains popularity.
*The government refers to “opposite-sex couples”, but we prefer to use the term “mixed-sex couples” to embrace trans-gender possibilities.
June 26, 2019
Equal Civil Partnerships are delighted to learn that Scotland is going to match England and Wales by introducing mixed-sex civil partnerships as well as continuing to allow single-sex civil partnerships. The announcement, made on Tuesday 25 June, follows a four month consultation held in 2018.
The Scottish Government has said that there are now “plans to introduce a Bill into the Scottish Parliament in autumn this year to extend civil partnership to mixed sex couples. This Bill will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. If Parliament enacts the Bill, we expect that secondary legislation will then be needed. This means, therefore, that mixed sex civil partnership may be established in Scotland in 2021.”
This announcement, whilst welcome, provides at least a three year delay from the Supreme Court ruling in June 2018. It also means that mixed-sex civil partnerships will begin to take place at least over a year after England and Wales. At the ECP campaign, we are very concerned that they need to act faster than this and will be pushing for the Government to commit to a speedier time-frame.
We would welcome hearing from supporters who would like to be part of making the case to the Scottish Government. Sign up to our mailing list for updates and the latest news on the Scottish consultation. https://forms.gle/gJbWwwEEicixLV6q8
May 29, 2019
Text of Rebecca Steinfeld’s talk at Beyond Marriage Conference, Cambridge 24th-25th May 2019.
Thank you to Clare Chambers and all her colleagues at the University of Cambridge for organising this conference, and inviting me to share my experiences of campaigning for a change in the law to open civil partnerships to all.
Together with my long-term partner Charlie Keidan, I’ve been involved in the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign for several years – but today I’m speaking in a personal capacity.
So over the next 30 minutes, I want to share a few of my own reflections.
My talk is split into four parts:
- To briefly explain our motivations – essentially why we wanted a CP – and how and why these driving motivations evolved over time
- To outline the process of taking the Government to court on this issue
- To explain how the campaign developed, and how it worked with Tim Loughton
- To share the lessons I took from these experiences, and why I hope that civil partnership reform will pave the way for much broader reforms in relationship recognition
In the Q&A, please don’t ask me when and how Charlie and me will actually finally celebrate our civil partnership. Because, after four years, four Equalities Ministers, three court cases, two children and with me now working two jobs, quite frankly we’re too exhausted to organise anything.
- At beginning it was feminism. We are partners in life and wanted to be partners in law too. We wanted to formalise our relationship free from the baggage of marriage with its problematic gendered symbols, associations and traditions. Civil partnerships existed – there was no need to create anything new, just open them to all.
- After we had children, we wanted to reflect that relationship of equals to our children, but also pragmatically we wanted more financial protection for their benefit, in case we were to separate or one of us died
- The shift in our personal motivations coincided with a strategic shift in the messaging and language of the campaign: at the beginning, we were child-free and more idealistic, but became more pragmatic after we had children and saw the need to be disciplined in order to build the largest possible coalition in favour of change
- On a personal level, I should say that the label ‘civil partnership’ is aspirational rather than descriptive – my relationship with Charlie faces the same financial and emotional pressures as many working parents with small children, with its ups and downs. We try our best to be civil partners, but we’re don’t always succeed
- I also don’t want to suggest that marriage is not an evolving and dynamic institution – far from it – and I fully support those reforming marriage
- However, we wanted the relative blank slate that a civil partnership offered
- We walked into Chelsea Register office in October 2014 to give notice to form a CP. The Registrar asked us if we were different-sex, and when we confirmed we were of different-sex, she said we couldn’t have one
- This was a course of action suggested by Prof Rob Wintemute – to whom Peter Tatchell had introduced us – as a necessary prelude to challenge the existing law in domestic courts
- This was not an untrodden path. Some of you will have heard of the Equal Love campaign and the Ferguson and others v. UK case taken to the ECtHR. When we became engaged to become civil partners, this case was going through the courts and we were optimistic it would be heard and the judges in Strasbourg would rule that the situation in the UK was unlawful. Sadly that wasn’t to be: The case was dismissed
- So back to square one which meant a case to be brought before the domestic courts
- The basis of the case: Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 incompatible with Civil Partnerships Act (CPA) 2004 because HRA assures right to private and family life (article 8) and non-discrimination (article 14) in relation to other rights, and CPA only allowed same-sex couples to form civil partnerships
- We had an all-star feminist legal team: Louise Whitfield (DPG), Karon Monaghan and Sarah Hannett (Matrix Chambers)
- Our families were ambivalent despite their legal backgrounds – because of cost, risk aversion, small ‘c’ conservatism and reputational concerns
- There were three stages, which brought us closer to winning each time, but it was an opaque, exhausting, stressful, drawn-out process with numerous setbacks
- (1) High Court 2015 we lost on all grounds – but granted an immediate appeal because the case was in the public interest
- (2) Court of Appeal 2017 we lost narrowly 2:1, but it was a major advance because the lead judge agreed with us, and all the judges agreed that we were within ambit, i.e. this issue was deemed to affect our right to private and family life. The Government accepted that. It became a watermark for other legal cases.
- (3) Supreme Court 2018: We won unanimously 5:0 and were given declaration of incompatibility
- Then what? There were three ways to equalise: up (open to all), down (abolish), phase out/grandfather
- We’d always known that the legal case would have its limits – the separation of powers means judges, rightly, cannot legislate, so the legal case was essential but not sufficient.
- That is why from the outset we’d set up a public and increasingly politically-focused campaign to work alongside the legal case. After the Supreme Court ruling, the campaign superseded the legal case.
- Origins: People heard us on Woman’s Hour in December 2014, contacted us and offered to help. Charlie had the foresight to form what he called a ‘kitchen cabinet,’ which soon became a steering group and then campaign team
- This included figures such as Martin Loat (who with his partner, Claire, went to the Isle of Man to form a CP to add weight to the campaign and is now leading the campaign), Fiona Millar, architect Elsie Owusu, as well as Peter Tatchell and Rob Wintemute
- The Change.org petition – 145k signatures –created a community of people who could take action, lobby and donate, plus it showed public support & how people were personally effected
- By creating this community and building on the media coverage generated by legal case, we were able to raise funds on Gofundme and Crowdjustice fundraising pages for both the case and campaign. We also secured foundation backing for our strategic litigation without which we would not have been able to take the cases because the costs risks were too huge for us to bear solo.
- The campaign organised polling showing the public support (3:1 supported extension)
- First few years: various campaign managers worked with the steering group. Then political strategist Ben Rich came on board. He counselled that we should have as broad a tent as possible to build cross-party support and to persuade the government. He advised identifying parliamentary champion, ideally a Conservative politician who we could work alongside and support as they took legislation through Parliament
- Enter Tim Loughton! A Tory MP and as a former Minister for Children and Families he had a long track record of commitment to pursuing this issue since 2013. He seemed the ideal champion…
- BUT – in the initial period, there were some deliberations about how best to work with Conservatives as the campaign had a left-leaning tint and because Tim Loughton’s attempt to amend the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 to extend CPs was interpreted by some as a stance against same-sex marriage – something Charlie and I campaigned for in our own (Jewish) community
- But over time, we saw Tim’s sincere commitment to this issue, and we formed an effective working relationship with him. And it’s been an unexpected pleasure working together. I even let him hold my baby!
- As fate would have it, Tim came in at number 5 in the PMB ballot, the highest Tory in the ballot – and the rest is history – though he’ll tell you more about the ins and outs of that legislative process from that point on – for us, it was a rollercoaster!
- Theresa May announced Government support for opening CPs in Oct 2018, just four months after the Supreme Court ruling
- The Bill cleared Parliament on 15th March 2019
- Though we still need secondary legislation to introduce precise arrangements around things like conversion and recognition of overseas CPs, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 mandates that mixed-sex civil partnerships will be available by 31st December 2019. So we are very nearly there!
Three main lessons learned:
- Recognise the importance of litigation: It is impossible to say what would have happened without our legal effort, and who knows what will happen to the institution of CPs over time. What we can say is that the legal case generated media interest beyond what we could have imagined, news hooks to hang personal stories, ventilate the issues, raise public awareness and generate support. The disadvantages were that is was personally demanding, an opaque procedure, prohibitive costs, and it could only take us so far
- Be prepared to make trade-offs: The need to moderate campaign messages (from equality, human rights, feminism to “popular, fair, good for families”), and to form unexpected alliances (radical feminists and backbench Tory MPs), meant the process has not been without its challenges. I must say though that it was powerful and somewhat surreal to see a raft of Tory MPs speaking in favour of what I originally envisaged as a radical feminist policy change during the Bill’s last debate in the House of Commons. So those trade-offs swing both ways!
- Recognise the limits of what you can achieve, but also its potential: Ignore nasty comments but learn from legitimate criticism and consider how you or other can address it in the future. In our case, one criticism we encountered was that reforming civil partnerships did not go far enough in addressing the vulnerable situation of cohabitees, or in challenging the unequal status between couples and other relationship arrangements (such as between siblings and polyamorous groupings). I acknowledge those limitations. But at the same time, my own view and hope – and I can speak for Charlie too – is that by reforming civil partnerships, we have continued and widened the conversation about whose relationship gets to be recognised and why, and about the need for social policy to keep up with modern and evolving family life. I hope that opening civil partnerships to all is just the beginning of the conversation, and not the end.
Other lessons learned:
- Identify a clear and realistically attainable objective: This was amending one law to open one social institution to all – not reforming marriage and cohabitation law and policy per se. The disadvantages of this were that we had to be careful how we presented our case and some argued we did something entirely un-radical. For example, we never said we were against marriage and some argue that extending CPs was a very conservative thing because it celebrates state sanctioned couple relationships rather than new forms.
- Role of strategy: Thanks to a professional campaign structure, things got more strategic over time. It’s useful to research who else is working on this issue and how can you add to what they’re doing. Determine whether you need top down or bottom up change. Identify the policymaker with power to change. Identify potential allies
- Build a community: Use online platforms to share your and others’ personal stories, engage supporters by asking them for non-monetary contributions (sending postcards to MPs, share photos explaining motivations)
- Fundraise: We used crowdfunding, Crowdjustice and philanthropic foundations (which underwrote Government costs when we lost)
- Persist and prepare yourself for the long haul: Even changing three words has taken five years, four equalities ministers, two children… It’s a long, drawn-out, rollercoaster of an experience. Sacrifices to work and family life have to be made, so don’t take on something like this lightly!