The United Kingdom is not so united in defining the status of same-sex couples engaging (or attempting to engage) in legal unions, given that marriage is a devolved matter. While the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised same-sex marriages in Scotland, and England & Wales respectively, same-sex marriages are not recognisable in law in Northern Ireland.
Westminster and Holyrood sought to legally enshrine a new era of liberal acceptance of same-sex relationships, swiftly legislating equivalent status for same-sex couples previously confined to civil partnerships.
With civil partnerships presenting as more or less legal marriage in all but name, Westminster is perhaps regretting not having revealed the Civil Partnership Act 2004.
Public tensions have been stirred by the February 2017 decision of the English Court of Appeal, which confirmed that heterosexual couples are not entitled to enter into civil partnerships, since the Civil Partnership Act 2004 permits only same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. The legal position now (except in Northern Ireland) is that same-sex couples can enter into either a civil partnership or a legal marriage. In a recent study conducted by Populus, 57 per cent of respondents answered that all couples should be allowed the right to obtain a civil partnership; 20 per cent said that civil partnerships should be removed altogether and 24 per cent said that they did not know or did not mind the current position.
There is an obvious irony behind the intentions (perhaps even negligence) of Westminster’s and Holyrood’s hasty decisions to legal same-sex marriages. Rather than recognise that the civil partnership is an obsolete legal construct, many are now indignant that same-sex couples have more options – more rights – in choice of legal unions, than do heterosexual couples.
The legalisation of same-sex marriage seemingly brings about more questions than answers. Will the UK government repeal the Civil Partnership Act? Will there be a litany of legal actions by dismayed civil partners stripped of their legal status, and ‘forced’ to marry or remain a couple without legal status? Will the Civil Partnership Act be amended to allow for heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships?
Even good intentions come with headaches.
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