HM Insights

Civil Partnerships now open to all

The Civil Partnership Act of 2004 (the '2004 Act') allowed same-sex couples to become civil partners and thus gave them the rights and responsibilities very similar to parties in a civil marriage.  This meant that those in a civil partnership could have the same property rights and benefits and rights in relation to children as if they were a married couple. Like marriage, in order to form a civil partnership in the UK, both parties require to be over the age of 16 (no parental consent was required over 16 years in Scotland). 

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When the 2004 Act came into force, it was welcomed as it allowed couples in a same-sex relationship to have the same rights as a married couple. However in 2014, same-sex marriage became legal and thus those in a same-sex relationship could either chose to marry or enter into a civil partnership.  Those in a mixed-sex relationship did not have the option of a civil partnership, this being restricted to same-sex couples only.  In England this was challenged by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. 

Their position was that restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples was discriminatory and ultimately the case progressed to the UK Supreme Court who agreed with them and stated that the law should be changed.  Essentially the Supreme Court determined that the legislation was not compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights as it prevented mixed-sex couples from entering into a civil partnership.  Although the decision related to the then law of England and Wales, the facts and circumstances in Scotland were similar and therefore the Scottish Government consulted on the future of civil partnership in 2018.  It was decided that civil partnerships should be extended to mixed-sex couples. 

The Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill received Royal Assent on 28 July 2020.  Since then the Scottish Government has been working on secondary legislation to bring the law into practical operation.  This means that from 1 June 2021 it is possible to submit a notice of intention to enter into a mixed-sex civil partnership.  28 days of notice is required and therefore the first mixed-sex civil partnership could potentially take place from 30 June 2021. 

The 28 day notice period can be waived in certain circumstances by the Registrar General for example when one of the intended parties to the partnership is terminally ill or about to be posted overseas and is in the armed forces.  Essentially the registration process for mixed-sex civil partnerships will be very similar to that which currently applies to the registration of same-sex civil partnerships. 

Although you will be able to enter into a mixed-sex civil partnership from June 2020, there are provisions of the Act which are not yet in force or will not have been fully implemented by June.  For example, there is a provision that will make it an offence to coerce the person to enter into a civil partnership. The work to implement this provision and others is being progressed with an aim for it to be implemented towards the end of 2021.

Same-sex marriages have been legal in Scotland since December 2014.  Since then, the rate of marriage for same-sex couples has been roughly on average 900 marriages per year.  In 2014 there were 436 civil partnerships registered however this dropped down to around 70 per year between 2015 and 2019. It remains to be seen long term whether the rates for civil partnerships will increase now they are open to anyone or continue to decrease in popularity given that marriage is also now open to same-sex couples.  

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