Civil Partnerships: CSCS Submission to UK Government Consultation

Civil Partnership Review ( England & Wales): a consultation

INTRODUCTION – This submission is offered by the Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, a unique UK-based ecumenical network specifically engaged in Christian communities’ need for a contemporary theology of sexuality and gender. CSCS provides opportunities for issues of sexuality and gender identity to be discussed honestly and openly, and aims to help others in the Churches to provide similar opportunities.

Same Sex Marriage
Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should not be abolished because in as much as they exist for same-sex partners they offer a particularity of legal, social, and informal religious recognition as an alternative to existing civil or religious marriage. Civil partnerships were introduced to address the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples in long-term, permanently intended relationships did not share the same legal protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, including next-of-kin, inheritance, and pension rights, as well as other benefits. Notwithstanding their reluctance to embrace same-sex marriage per se most main- stream Christian bodies in the UK now accept the importance of civil partnerships as contributing to the common good of the wider society. There are many people who do not, in conscience, wish to contract marital status, either for religiously theological reasons, or who on grounds of a firmly held secular belief reject the institution of marriage. Such objections are not based on an empty ideology. To abolish civil partnerships would be unfair to those couples who wish to retain this status, introducing an historic inequality that CPs are perceived as unequal and inferior to marriage. Abolition of CPs would make it compulsory either for existing civil partners to get married or to separate. Such an enforced change would result in those who refused such a transition to end up in a social and legal limbo. Given the inequalities which continue to exist, particularly for transgender people and lesbian women in certain areas of civil partnership legal and pension rights, it is imperative that the Government introduces secondary legislation to the Civil Partnerships Act.

Q2 Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?

Yes – To remove this option, after 60,000 + couples have civilly-partnered, assumes on no evidence that all future same-sex couples would prefer marital status. For many, including people of faith, the language of marriage is loaded with unwelcome meaning. The vocabulary of ‘husband’, denoting possession of a partner as property, in the way that we use ‘husbanding our resources’, and ‘wife’ as indicating an outdated mode of dependency, although rejected by many contemporary married heterosexuals, maintains a marriage culture which is rejected by a significant number of people today. If CPs were abolished the impact on those remaining in such unions could be severe, as their relationships would be perceived as a socially abandoned form of relationship, with negative effects. The language of ‘upgrading’ from civil partnership to marriage, even if not in any proposed legislation, should be rejected vehemently in any official guidance or government statements. Many of us find this attitude highly offensive and would propose the use of ‘convert’ to describe such a legal transition.

Q3 What are your views about extending civil partnership to opposite sex couples? Please choose one answer only.

We believe civil partnership should be extended to opposite-sex couples because a commitment to equality, human rights, and social justice compels us to wish to see this extended to all couples. There has been dramatic social change in understanding the nature and diversity of human relationships. Extending CPs to all couples in a personal and sexual relationship would be consistent with broadening the definition of recognised relationship and familial choices within contemporary society. Opposite-sex couples should have had this option from the outset of CP’s, providing an alternative to those wishing to secure the material benefits of a recognised partnership without having to become part of the institution of marriage which for conscience, and not simply ideological reasons, they reject. Statistical evidence is lacking to establish how many adults, currently co-habitees, would opt for civil partnerships, if available to them. Anecdotally, a number of those who have felt constrained to undertake existing civil marriage state that they would have preferred a civil partnership option if it had been available to them. Making CPs available to opposite-sex couples would secure greater economic security, not least for those with responsibilities of care for children, vulnerable adults, or older dependent family members. This would also be consistent with policies to strengthen legally recognised relationships, by offering alternative choices. The restriction of CPs to same-sex couples has implied a ‘not-quite-equal’ status, and this has also informed, unhelpfully, some of the same-sex marriage debates. Providing opposite- sex CPs would remove the requirement on trans-people to end their civil partnership when transitioning in gender. Recognising opposite-sex relationships, not called marriage, might also be welcomed by some bisexual people.

Q4 Given the choice between forming a civil partnership or living together as an opposite sex couple, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q5 Given the choice of forming a civil partnership or marrying your opposite sex partner, which would you personally prefer? Please choose one answer only.

This question does not apply to us. In this formulation it can only be answered by individuals/couples, and not institutions.

Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to:

Stopping new civil partnerships being formed reinforces a view that these are inferior to marriage. It also raises issues about how legal relationships from other jurisdictions can be fully recognised within the legal systems of England & Wales, and by extension to Scotland & Northern Ireland.

Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to:

Would it be possible, in future, to convert a civil marriage into a civil partnership? In the interests of equality would it be possible for those opposite-sex couples who civilly-married because this was the only option open to them be able to convert such a status into a civil partnership on the grounds of their right to ‘freedom of conscience, thought, and belief’ ? More detail is required about the conversion of civil partnerships into marriage, and vice versa. It should be made more straightforward for couples where one member undertakes gender transition to translate their civil partnership into marriage, and vice versa. Continuity of such relationships should be emphasised.

Q8 Are there any proposals for changes to the legal terminology and processes for forming civil partnerships which are consistent with civil partnership being different from marriage?

There should be greater legal flexibility for those religious bodies who wish to register civil partnerships in their buildings, or those shared with other faith-groups. The distinctive nature of same-sex civil partnerships needs to be acknowledged in guidance to and training for civil registrars. This might then prevent such persons claiming spurious conscience grounds on ‘religious belief’ to refuse to register such unions.

Q9 Are there other options for civil partnership which have not been raised so far but which are within the scope of the review and consistent with its principles?

Should a civil partnership be allowed to be dissolved for the express purpose of a marriage taking place, or should it be that a marriage in itself dissolves a previous civil partnership between that same couple ? There will be some who do not wish to simply convert their civil partnership as a purely administrative or bureaucratic action, but wish to be married in a civil or religious wedding ceremony and so would have to find some technical reason for dissolving their civil partnership in order that a valid marriage could take place. It would be detrimental to remove the ability of religious buildings and organisations to host civil partnerships, and this should be extended to the realm of religious marriage for those who so wish.

Q10 Are there people who share a relevant protected characteristic other than those identified above who would be particularly affected by a decision to make, or notto make, one or more the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?

The abolition of civil partnerships would promote historical and institutional discrimination against lesbian women and gay men who are, or were, in civil partnerships, as it would imply that such unions were second-rate and unequal to other legally recognised relationships. It is important in a plural democracy that formally recognised beliefs and not simply ‘personal opinions or interpretations’ conscientiously held by minorities should be respected by both the state and faith-communities themselves, where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. It is also necessary to protect those with a conscientiously-held religious belief which does not enable them to embrace same-sex marriage, including some same-sex, civilly-partnered couples who consider their unions to be already ‘sacramental’ – even if not formally recognised as such by their religious denominations. The retention and extension of civil partnerships will do nothing to undermine the validity of same-sex or opposite sex marriage, but will provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union, but will be able to do so without doing violence to their right to ‘freedom of conscientious, thought, and belief.’

4.4 Additional research/information on same-sex unions

In the absence of much recent research there are a number of websites which contain useful resources and express the diversity of views within faith-communities on the topic of same and opposite sex civil unions and marriage:

  • www.christianityandsexuality.org;
  • www.queeringthechurch.com ;
  • www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk ;
  • www.cuttingedgeconsortium.co.uk ;
  • http://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com
  • www.ekklesia.co.uk
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