Tim Loughton is the Member of Parliament for East Worthing and Shoreham, and was Parliamentary Under Secretary for Children and Families from 2010 until 2012. Follow Tim on Twitter.
David Burrowes set out the stall for those of us who have
opposed the Same Sex Marriage Bill in his excellent piece for Conservative Home
on Monday. It remains to be seen whether tentative steps by the Government to introduce limited safeguards
against some of the many concerns that we raised in committee about those in
public service with conscience objections finding themselves out of a job will
actually hold water.
However, there is one amendment to the Report Stage of the Bill
which I have tabled for next week around which opponents and supporters of the
principle of same sex marriage can all rally. It addresses a real inequality
that will be created if the Bill becomes law. A specially commissioned opinion
poll coming out over the weekend indicates strong support for the change across
the House and outside the House. That change is to extend civil partnerships to
opposite sex couples.
If same sex marriage becomes law, then gay couples will have
the choice either to go for the newly acquired right to marry or to join a new
civil partnership or maintain an existing one. Conversely opposite sex couples
will only have the option to marry, albeit in a wider range of religious or
civil institutions. A Bill which is being pushed through (wrongly in my view)
as an equality measure will therefore actually create a new and substantial
This is not necessarily a ‘niche’ consideration as an ONS
report identified no fewer than 2,893,000 opposite sex couples in the UK who
are living together but are not married, many with children. That is up from
1,459,000 in 1996. In 2010, almost a third of birth registrations were to
unmarried parents who live together. Surely it is only fair now to make this
additional change available for the many couples in loving stable relationships
who, for whatever reasons, do not wish to go down the traditional marriage route,
but who do want a public recognition of their commitment and protections under
the law that civil partnerships rightly brought to gay couples.
If such couples are
prepared to make the commitment and particularly to provide a more stable
environment for their children, then surely they deserve parity of esteem with
same sex couples who want a formal partnership without marriage? That is good
for family stability, good for children, good for society and good for
Conservatives to be promoting a more pragmatic and contemporary form of family
values, even if they do not amount to
full blown traditional marriage.
They need not be mutually exclusive and,
frankly, this Government’s record on delivering practical measures to promote
families so far has not exactly been gold-plated. In urging the Chancellor to stop
prevaricating over our clear manifesto and Coalition Agreement to introduce
transferable married tax allowances, I would also extend them to civil
partnerships with children, same sex or now opposite sex.
This amendment would also address the common misconceptions
that there is such a status as common-law wife or husband which somehow brings
with it rights, only for women typically to lose out significantly when a
partner dies. Even a couple who are engaged to be married in most cases have
greater legal protection than a cohabiting couple.
Another interesting point which was made by a witness during
the Committee stages of the Bill is that if you indicate you are in a civil
partnership on a form or in a an interview, you are automatically revealing that
you are gay. With civil partnerships available to all couples no such automatic
admission of your sexuality is involved.
In the Government’s own consultation on the Bill, 61% of
respondents said that opposite sex couples should be able to register a civil
partnership. Oddly, the Government have not acted on their own consultation, and
voted against this amendment when I pushed it to a vote in Committee. Ministers' defence of their position frankly lacked any substance, and now they
are looking to detach civil partnerships from this Bill and conduct a further separate
review. Frankly, that is the worst of all worlds. We don’t need yet another
flawed review. If the Bill goes through, a new inequality will have been
instituted and, perhaps worst of all, the issue of gay marriage which has done
so much damage to our Party at just the wrong time, will linger on probably
until the General Election.
I do not
believe that there should be any further delay in bringing in these changes as
part of this Bill now, underlining the tremendous success that civil
partnerships have become since 2005. Whether you think this is a good Bill or a
bad Bill let’s get shot of it one way or the other as soon as possible, and
let’s at least get this bit of it right before creating yet another rod for our