The Sunday Times on 13 May 2018 reported that the Conservative government could scrap gay people’s rights to civil partnerships rather than extending them to heterosexuals. It was a surprising move by the then Tory led coalition government to leave civil partnerships as an option for gay couples when extending marriage to same sex couples (with effect from 29 March 2014) and foreseeable that heterosexual couples would argue (on clear discrimination grounds) that the option of entering into civil partnerships should be equally available.
The government has intervened in the Supreme Court case involving Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan’s fight for the right to enter a civil partnership rather than having to get married. Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, has commissioned research to find out if demand for civil partnerships is so low that the “government should consider abolishing or phasing out civil partnerships entirely”. Why such research is necessary is baffling when the government’s own statistics show that the demand for civil partnerships is waning. The number of civil partnerships formed in England and Wales decreased in 2014 by 70% from 5,646 in 2013 to just 1,683 and again in 2015 by 49% to just 861, but saw a slight uptick (an increase of 3.4%) in 2016 to 890. The numbers are clearly on the decline now that (same-sex) marriage is available. Between 29 March 2014 and 31 December 2014, there were 4,850 same-sex marriages conducted in England and Wales. In 2015, there were 6,493.
Whatever ultimately happens, this is an issue of equality – either civil partnerships are extended to heterosexual couples or they are scrapped.