Civil Partnership- a New Option for Straight People

The first opposite sex civil partnerships can take place in Scotland from today and I can see that at least one couple are now officially empartnered- a couple from Fife, Ross and Rebecca.  Congratulations to them and may their partnership be long and successful!

This was possible because of a change in the law that came into force on 1 June 2021 (there is a notice period for civil partnerships, just like marriages, which is why today marks the first day on which you can actually have a ceremony). Mixed sex couples are now able to enter into civil partnerships with the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2020 now in force.  It brings equality and freedom of choice to everyone, irrespective of sexual orientation- if you want to enter into a formal committed relationship, you can now choose between marriage or civil partnership. 

It has been possible for same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships since the introduction of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2004.  This choice was extended for same sex couples by the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, which allowed them to marry. 

The change made by the 2020 Act is that it offers the same choice to mixed sex couples – the choice between marriage or civil partnership.  Whilst virtually identical rights and responsibilities arise from marriage and civil partnership, the religious connotations of marriage, objections to it as an institution and its association with property and the patriarchy have meant that marriage has been an unattractive option to some mixed sex couples.

The change in the law follows the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in 2018 (Steinfield and Keidan [2018] UKSC 32).  In this case, a heterosexual couple did not consider marriage was an option for them given their objections to the legacy of marriage, which they saw as treating woman as property.  They wanted to be equal partners and considered that this was only offered by the modern, symmetrical institution of civil partnership.  They successfully argued that the different treatment of mixed sex couples, where they couldn’t become civil partners (as they would have been able to do, were they a same-sex couple) was discriminatory and incompatible with their ECHR rights. The Supreme Court agreed, and made a declaration of incompatibility, which lead to the law change.  It considered that the barring of mixed sex couples from entering into a civil partnership breached their right to respect for their family and private life in terms of ECHR.

There are also provisions made in the 2020 Act for recognition of overseas different sex relationships and for converting marriages into civil partnerships.