Legislative Scrutiny: Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

5  Civil partnerships

91. We note the Bill's new provision that places an obligation on the Secretary of State to undertake an immediate review of civil partnerships.[110]

92. Evidence received by us has suggested that there is a potential human rights issue in relation to the continued exclusion of opposite sex couples from access to civil partnerships.[111] It may amount to unjustifiable discrimination for the law not to provide the same facility for legal recognition of opposite sex couples who could claim that their relationship is analogous to that of civil partners. This may lead to less favourable treatment of opposite sex couples in certain contexts, for example, in relation to property rights. There must be a clear justification for excluding opposite sex couples from being able to access the statutory benefits, legal protections and exemptions that apply to civil partners.

93. In evidence to us, the Government maintained that any difference in treatment of opposite sex couples is justified because unmarried opposite sex couples are free to marry in order to gain legal recognition of their relationship, and have therefore chosen instead the less favourable legal treatment of their unmarried relationship.[112]

94. The Government has also highlighted potential costs of extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.[113] When asked about this in evidence, the Pensions Minister suggested that the extension of civil partnerships to opposite sex couples may result in the need for total pension equality in public service pension schemes, which may cost between £3 billion to £4 billion.[114]

95. We are not convinced by the Government's reasons not to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples, and we welcome the Government's announcement that it will review this matter. In doing so, the Government should take into account the potential discrimination that may arise between cohabiting opposite sex couples and civil partners. We also note that there was some ambiguity in the Government evidence to us concerning the costs of extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. As part of its review, we expect the Government to provide clear and accurate information about these costs.

110   Clause14oftheBill,asintroducedatHouseofCommonsReportStage,20May2013 Back

111   EqualRightsTrust,SubmissiontotheJointCommitteeonHumanRights,May2013,paras80-97 Back

112   Letter from Rt Hon Maria Miller MP to Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 18 April 2013, Annex p.10;Evidence Session Qs. 43-45&51 Back

113   LetterfromRtHonMariaMillerMPtoChairoftheJointCommitteeonHumanRights,18April2013,Annexp.10 Back

114   Evidencesession2,14May2013,Q44andQ46 Back

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Prepared 14 June 2013