Some background to the new law

How the Civil Partnership Act came into being

The build-up to the law being changed in the UK began in June 2003 when the Government published a consultation document, "Civil Partnership - a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples in England and Wales' outlining its proposal to set up a civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples.

The responses to the consultation were summarised in a document that can be read by clicking on this link.

The Government's Women and Equality Unit, which collated the 3167 responses to the consultation, found that 83 per cent of respondents supported the principle of a civil partnership scheme.
Contributions came from a variety of lesbian, gay and bisexual groups, religious organisations, local authorities, trades unions and hundreds of individuals.

Two major campaigns were orchestrated by Stonewall, the gay and lesbian lobby group, and The Christian Institute, which was against the proposal. Stonewall supporters sent in 681 postcards or letters, The Christian Institute only rallied 202 letters.

Interestingly, out of the 17 responses from nationally-based religious groups, 53 per cent supported the principle of civil partnerships. However, of the 20 responses from individual religious groups or congregations, 85 per cent opposed it. Perhaps it was the gay factions of religious organisations that supported it and church groups in the shires who rallied against us. The report says these responses mainly came from Baptist, Evangelical, Free and Congregational churches. Not very 'Free' then.

A key theme emerging from the consultation was the question of whether gay marriage should be equal to straight marriage. Many in favour of the principle of civil partnerships wanted the Government to go further and allow gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

However, others were concerned that this would undermine the sanctity of marriage. An anonymous quote in the summary says: 'Legislation which provides the same rights in law to gay couples will send out the strong signal that gay and heterosexual relationships are on an equal footing.' And what's wrong with that, pray?

However, the Government followed this quote in the summary document with a statement in a box: 'The Government has no plans to allow same-sex couples to marry. The proposals are for an entirely new legal status of civil partnership.' So, no negotiation there then.
Some of the respondents wanted civil partnerships to be open to straight couples.

One balanced comment stated: 'My only regret is that they [the proposals] don't include provision to include heterosexual couples within the partnership framework, and that the proposals don't propose a marriage option for those same-sex couples who might wish that option.'

Others wanted to open civil partnerships up to individuals who cohabit but are not in a sexual relationship, for example, carers and siblings. A respondent suggested: 'The Government could create a legal status of 'co-dependency' which would include all the many people, not in a sexual relationship, who live together and yet are discriminated against when one of the home-sharers dies.'

However, the Government again put its position in a box - marvellous irony - saying that the proposed registration scheme was aimed at addressing a specific shortcoming in the recognition of same-sex couples. It argued that carers and siblings did not have the same case for being recognised as a couple. For example, siblings are considered next of kin in a hospital situation, whereas until the law was changed, same sex couples could be treated as strangers, even in an emergency.

Other quotes showed how opinions were polarised even among the religious folk. One Baptist Minister is quoted as saying: 'Marriage is a unique institution because it allows for the possibility of children being conceived and nurtured.

In marriage, a man and a woman make an exclusive commitment to each other. Whilst I recognise that this does not always work out in practice, no comparable situation can ever apply with homosexual couples.'

Have they not heard of the rights of gay and lesbian couples to adopt? Or the fact that our tackle still works and we can have children by artificial insemination or other means . . .

Meanwhile a Church of England priest said: 'I warmly and wholeheartedly endorse the proposals for civil partnership registration for lesbian and gay couples. Justice for all is one of the central Christian teachings, and at the heart of the Bible. Lesbian and gay people who have made a commitment in a relationship deserve the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples who marry.'

What should civil partners be called?

When the civil partnership law was being debated, there was heated discussion about the term civil partnership. Some felt it was appropriate as it described exactly the status that was being proposed and it was a positive term. Others said they found it clinical, cold and clumsy and more like a business relationship. It certainly doesn't trip off the tongue or sound very romantic.

Some suggested calling it a gay marriage, others, including gay couples, said they didn't want to use the word 'marry' but wanted an entirely civil status with no religious or moral overtones. The words 'civil union' were suggested as an alternative.

Other terms suggested were life partnership registration, spousal registration, partnership acknowledgement, partnership commitment, civil commitment, act of union, register of commitment, partner alliance and life covenant.

Let's just call it a gay wedding and be done with it! There were also a range of suggestions for what we could call each other. These included partner, life partner, dedicated partner, partner-in-life, covenanted partner, legal partner, civil spouse, spouse, husband, wife, co-husband, co-wife, MATE - married and together, significant other, betrothed, beloved

And wait for it . . . Lebensabschnittsmitfahrer . . . roughly translated as 'fellow companion on this part of my journey through life'. Shame it's such a long word that sounds potentially quite short - when they say 'this part of my journey' do they mean, until we reach King's Cross station?

Anyway, despite asking respondents to be creative on this one, again the Government stuck its decision in a box. 'We . . . propose that the term 'civil partner' be used to refer to those who register a civil partnership.' Very civil service.

The passage through parliament

In June 2003 when the Government published a consultation document, "Civil Partnership - a framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples in England and Wales' outlining its proposal to set up a civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, on 30 September 2003, the Scottish Executive published a consultation paper on the devolved aspects of a civil partnership registration scheme for same-sex couples, "Civil Partnership Registration. A legal status for committed same-sex couples in Scotland". The Scottish consultation ended on 5 December 2003.
A similar consultation exercise was carried out on proposals for a civil partnership registration scheme in Northern Ireland, in early 2004.

The consultation period in England and Wales finished at the end of September, and the Queen's Speech to the Houses of Parliament in November 2003 announced the Government's proposal for the introduction of the civil registration scheme.

The Government published the Civil Partnership Bill on 31 March 2004. It had its second reading in the House of Lords on 22 April 2004, the first opportunity for it to be debated.

It then passed through the committee stage in the House of Lords where each clause was discussed in detail. The Bill went through the report stage in the House of Lords on 24 June 2004 and had its third reading in the House of Lords on 1 July 2004.

The Bill passed to the House of Commons and had its second reading on 12 October 2004. The Commons removed the amendment passed during the report stage at the House of Lords which would have extended the provisions of the Bill to family members and carers.

Stonewall, the gay lobby group, said this amendment, sponsored by Conservative Peer Baroness O'Cathain, would have made the Bill unworkable and undermined hundreds of years of family law. Even organisations with a vested interest such as Carers UK agreed that this Bill was the wrong way to introduce such changes. They agreed with Stonewall that protection for family members and carers should be in a separate Bill.

A further attempt to include carers and family members was defeated at the third reading in the Commons on 9 November 2004. The Bill returned to the House of Lords on Wednesday 17 November 2004 for consideration of Commons amendments.

After all this bouncing around, the Bill was passed and received Royal Assent on 18 November 2004. However, it took more than a year to implement the Civil Partnership Act. Apparently, this was because of changes to tax and benefits computer systems, forms that had to be amended and registrars trained in the new procedures.

Changes were made to the tax system in the 2005 Finance Bill, so civil partners would be treated as a married couple for inheritance tax purposes.

Gay couples were finally able to register from 5 December 2005 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 covers the whole of the UK but takes account of the different legal frameworks in Scotland and Northern Ireland.