A proposed timetable for reviewing the future of civil partnership in England has been published by the UK Government, as the Supreme Court begins hearing the appeal of an opposite sex couple who want the right to enter such a union.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan claim it is a discriminatory infringement of their right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights that they are not allowed to register a civil partnership, when same sex couples can do so but can also choose to marry. They regard marriage as a patriarchal institution which they do not wish to enter.
The Court of Appeal rejected their case by a majority – Lady Justice Arden concluded that ministers had failed to justify the discrimination, but Lords Justices Beatson and Briggs ruled that the courts should not "micro-manage" sensitive areas of social policy and that ministers should have more time to evaluate their options, while suggesting, as the Government accepts, that the present position could not continue indefinitely.
In its new paper the Government notes that there has been a big fall in the number of civil partnerships registered since same sex marriage was introduced south of the border in 2013, from an average of 6,305 in the six years before then to 890 in 2016, though that number rose slightly on the previous year. It also notes the Scottish Government's position that five years’ data are needed to assess ongoing demand for civil partnerships amongst same sex couples. Scotland permitted same sex marriage from the end of 2014.
It proposes to undertake "an accurate and up-to-date assessment of the demand for civil partnership amongst opposite-sex couples" by a survey over the coming year, with findings being analysed in summer of 2019, "giving us the information we need to make a well-informed assessment of potential demand for civil partnerships by early 2020". It concludes: "At the earliest, we would anticipate being able to consult on the future operation of civil partnerships in 2020."