Campaigners: Government's promised review on civil partnerships for straight couples is a 'spoling tactic'

Three Tory MPs are pushing for civil unions to be an option for heterosexual, as well as gay, couples

Campaigners who say that heterosexuals should have the same rights as gays to enter into civil partnerships accused the Government of introducing a ‘spoiling tactic’ to try to block or delay the reform.

The Culture, Media and Sports department announced a “thorough review” this evening that would consider the future of civil partnerships, which only gay men and lesbians can legally enter into, under present law.

Three Tory MPs - Tim Loughton, Charlotte Leslie and Rob Wilson - are pushing for civil partnerships to be an option for heterosexual couples.

In a letter to fellow MPs, they argue: “This is not necessarily a ‘niche’ consideration. No fewer than 2,893,000 opposite sex couples in the UK are living together but are not married, many with children. If they are prepared to make the commitment and particularly provide a more stable environment for their children then surely they deserve parity of esteem with same sex couples who want a formal partnership without marriage.”

The three are predicting “widespread support” for their amendment. An aide to Mr Loughton, a former schools minister, dismissed the promised review, saying: “It’s a spoiling tactic by the Government.”

But the veteran gay rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, said that the Government has already consulted and found that 61 per cent of those asked supported allowing heterosexuals to enter into civil partnerships.

“The Government should do the right thing and accept the amendment tabled by Tim Loughton and others, because it has majority public support,” he said.

Gay marriage has already caused the biggest backbench rebellion that David Cameron has faced in his eight years as Conservative leader, with more than 130 Tories voting against the legislation. The scale of the opposition has made ministers reluctant to push ahead with changes to the law governing civil partnerships.

A spokesman for the Culture department said last night: “Civil partnerships were created for a very specific reason - to give same-sex couples access to legal rights at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage. 

“Now that the time is right to extend marriage to same sex couples, it is also right that we should consider the future of civil partnerships.  There are strong views on both sides of this debate, and we have listened to those views.  A proper review will allow us to look at the issues in a considered and thorough way, giving full consideration to the implications of any changes.”

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: “The Equal Marriage Bill is about extending marriage to same-sex couples.  Questions have been raised about whether we should also extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.  There are strong views on both sides of this debate, and we have listened to those views.  We are therefore offering the House the opportunity to have a review of this area, rather than legislating now without the required evidence.“

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