The Government is to conduct a review of civil partnerships that could open them up to straight couples or see them abolished altogether.
The Home Office is to consult on proposed changes to address “the difference in treatment” of same-sex and heterosexual couples in marriage law.
Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 as an initial step on the road to legalising gay marriage. The system was left in place after same-sex marriage was introduced, but critics argue this created a new inequality because heterosexual couples do not have the choice of a civil partnership.
Conservative former minister Tim Loughton brought forward a bill seeking the extension of civil partnerships. However, other MPs have called for civil partnerships to cease entirely instead.
Responding to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill in the Commons on Friday, junior Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the Government would “bring forward proposals for how the law ought to be changed so that the difference in treatment in the current system is resolved”.
She added: “We are committed to resolving this issue, but we have to get some better evidence than we have at the moment in order to deal sensitively with the civil partnership issue.”
As part of the consultation, she said, the Government will be "assessing the ongoing level of demand for civil partnership" among both same-sex and straight couples.
Mr Loughton had hoped the Government would agree simply to extend the right to civil partnerships and will see the announcement as a dilution of his bill.
He said the the legalisation of gay marriage had created an “unintended but glaring inequality... whereby same-sex couples are entitled to continue in a civil partnership, take up a civil partnership or enjoy the recent extension of marriage while opposite-sex couples have only the single option of conventional marriage”.
He added: “That is not fair, and it gives rise to an inequality in an Act that was billed as promoting equality.”
But Michelle Donelan, Conservative MP for Chippenham, said extending civil partnerships would ”confuse and complicate commitment, not encourage commitment”.
She said she would instead "rather see civil partnerships ceased altogether", adding it was “time that actually we refresh our mind as to why civil partnerships were invented in the first place”
“They were invented because same-sex marriage was not legal – civil partnerships were not intended to be a permanent alternative to marriage," she said.
“They were created to allow an equivalent access to rights, responsibilities and protections for same-sex couples to those accorded to those married.
“This is no longer the case.”
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