A proposal to make civil partnerships available to different sex couples will strengthen equality and advance human rights in Scotland, according to a Holyrood Committee.
The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has published its stage 1 report on the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, which would allow different sex couples to have a civil partnership. Currently this option is only available to same-sex couples.
Extending civil partnerships would create legal and financial protection for those different sex couples who do not wish to marry for a range of symbolic, cultural and emotional reasons, the Committee said.
MSPs on the Committee also called for the Scottish Government to consider whether the Bill could be amended to allow already married couples to convert their marriage to a civil partnership.
The Committee further recommended that guidance should be issued for the public, outlining the differences between marriage and civil partnership.
Committee Convener, Ruth Maguire MSP, said:
“The Committee supports the Scottish Government’s aim of advancing human rights and equality through the extension of civil partnerships to different sex couples.
“We recognise the importance of offering choice for couples to formalise their relationship and access the rights and protections which flow from that, in a way that they see fit.
“However, the Committee heard evidence that if provisions to allow conversion from marriage to civil partnership are introduced in England and Wales, then Scotland could fall behind on matters of equality.
“We believe there is an opportunity to improve the Bill by creating a provision to allow couples to convert their marriage to a civil partnership. Whilst there are undoubtedly legal challenges in this area, these could be overcome with careful legal drafting.”
The Bill, which follows a UK Supreme Court ruling which found this difference in treatment between same sex and different sex couples breaches human rights law, also makes consequential changes to other legislation. This is to give different sex civil partners similar rights and responsibilities to marriage including:
- amendments to Scottish family law to accommodate the consequential possibility of reproduction;
- amendments so that registration of a civil partnership will not prevent one partner changing legal gender;
- creation of an offence of forcing someone into a civil partnership, and
- recognition of certain overseas relationships between different sex couples.
The UK Supreme Court judgment in Steinfeld found provisions of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to be incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights taken in conjunction with Article 8, in that it denied different sex couples the opportunity to enter into civil partnerships, while same sex couples had the choice of either marriage or civil partnership.
Following the ruling, the Scottish Government consulted on the future of civil partnership setting out two options for change: closure of civil partnership to new relationships from a date in the future, or extension of civil partnership to different sex couples. Whilst both would have been consistent with the UK Supreme Court decision in Steinfeld the Scottish Government considered it better to extend civil partnership.
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