Same-sex couples to be allowed to convert civil partnerships to marriages from December, Culture Secretary says

But civil partnerships will not be opened up to straight couples following consultation

Men and women in same-sex relationships who are already in a civil partnership will be able to convert it to a civil marriage from 10 December this year, it has been announced.

The Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, said that the “straightforward” conversion process was something people had been “clamouring for” since the Government passed gay marriage laws last year.

Writing for Pink News, Mr Javid said he was also able to announce good news for married transgender people, who will now be able to change their legal gender without ending their marriage if their husband or wife agrees.

The changes come as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published the results of a consultation into the potential changes needed for civil partnerships.

Mr Javid wrote: “Freedom has always been about the right to be who you are and love who you love.

“That’s why I’m pleased to announce that, from 10 December, couples in England and Wales who have entered a Civil Partnership over the past decade will be free to convert it into a marriage.

“We've made the process of conversion as straightforward as possible. Couples will simply have to attend a Register Office and sign a declaration that they both wish to convert their Civil Partnership to a marriage in front of the Superintendent Registrar. That's it.”

While those changes will come into place this year, the Government said it will not be extending civil partnerships to be available to straight couples.

Today’s report showed that three quarters of those who replied were such a move, and said: “Several important organisations thought it was too soon to consider making changes to civil partnership - this should wait until we know the impact of extending marriage to same sex couples.

“Other organisations, in contrast, put forward a case for opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples now, for example because civil partnership and marriage were different relationships and couples should have equal access to both.

“In time we will know how many same sex couples are marrying and how many entering a civil partnership, and how many couples are remaining in civil partnerships rather than converting them to marriages.

“At present we do not have this information, and civil partnership conversion to marriage will not be available until December 2014. Given the lack of consensus on the way forward, the Government will not be making any changes.”

One response highlighted in the report, from Christian Concern and Christian Legal Centre, said: “The introduction of heterosexual civil partnerships will inevitably discourage some opposite sex couples from marrying, and result in greater instability within families, by offering a parallel institution that provides all the legal rights and privileges of marriage without the need for lifelong commitment.”

But in a statement, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said the move was a “betrayal” by the Government.

He said: “David Cameron has betrayed the principle of equality by refusing to allow opposite-sex couples to have a civil partnership. His government is maintaining legal discrimination against straight partners. In a democracy, we should all be equal before the law.

“Same-sex couples now have a legal advantage over straight couples. They have two options: civil marriage and civil partnership. In contrast, opposite-sex couples have only one option: marriage. This is unjust and unfair.”

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