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Civil Partnership Act - the path to equality
The Government's consultation document 'Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples' proposed to set up a scheme under which same-sex couples would be able to register their partnership.
The consultation period ended on 30th September 2003 and in her speech on 26 November 2003 the Queen announced the Government's proposal for the introduction of the civil registration scheme for same-sex partners. 83% of responses supported the principle of a civil partnership scheme.
On 31 March 2004 the government published the Civil Partnership Bill which 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 on the following dates:
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. This amendment, sponsored by Conservative peer Baroness O’Cathain, would have made the Bill unworkable and undermined hundreds of years of family law. Organisations such as the Law Society and Carers UK agreed that this Bill was the wrong vehicle for such changes. Stonewall had consistently stated that protection for family members and carers should be in a separate Bill.
A further attempt to extend the Bill in this way was made at the third reading in the Commons on 9 November 2004 but a large majority of MPs voted against it.
The Bill returned to the House of Lords on Wednesday 17 November 2004 for the Lords consideration of Commons amendments where another attempt was made to amend the Bill - this was voted down by 251 votes to 136.
The Bill was passed and received Royal Assent on 18 November 2004. It took a year to implement the Civil Partnership Act. This was to allow all the necessary changes to be made and implemented, for example changes to the 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.
Same-sex partners were able to register from 5 December 2005 and the first registrations were in Northern Ireland on 19 December 2005, followed by Scotland on 20 December and then England and Wales on 21 December.
During February 2006, Stonewall and Barclays embarked on a ‘Get Hitched’ road show to inform gay people about what civil partnership meant for them. The seminars were held in Blackpool, Brighton, London, Manchester and Birmingham and Barclays and Stonewall staff were on hand to give people free advice about the financial and legal implications of civil partnership.
In March 2010 the House of Lords supported Lord Alli’s amendment to the Equality Bill to permit civil partnerships to take place in religious premises. Stonewall led calls for a permissive approach to enable the various religious denominations who now wish to perform and bless civil partnerships in their buildings – including the Quakers, Liberal Judaism and the Unitarian Church - to be able to do so. The detail and timing of the changes is to be confirmed by the Government.
Following the general election in 2010 Stonewall is engaged in consultation with supporters and others on the future of civil partnerships.