Are civil partnerships compatible with human rights law?

17 March 2010 by

Baroness Deech, the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, has given the second lecture in her series on family law at Gresham College. In this lecture she questions whether the current law of marriage is compatible with human rights law. In particular, homosexual couples cannot legally marry, and hetrosexual couples are disbarred from entering civil partnerships. She said:

“Since [the] acceptance and recognition [of gay rights] has grown, advanced by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Bill 2010. Gay couples may adopt children (Adoption and Children Act 2002); they have access to fertility services and full parentage of donor conceived children (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008). Same sex childless couples are deemed to be a “family” for the purpose of succeeding a deceased partner to a tenancy (Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association [1998] Ch.304). This trend culminated in the legislative establishment of civil partnerships in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, creating a union almost identical to, but not marriage.”

The Equality Bill of 2010 will further protect such rights. There has been such a sea change that the Conservative leader has promised that civil partners will benefit from extended paternity and maternity leave (in the case of adoption or artificial insemination babies) in the event of an election victory. The Tory leader also promised that proposals to extend flexible working and married couples- tax breaks would be granted as well. He has stated that the party is no longer hostile to same sex couples. The question now is not the public acceptance of the union of two people of the same sex, but whether this legally recognised union should be called marriage and be exactly the same as marriage.

Alice Thompson in The Times responds that marriage is anything but a spent force and while “scared politicians shy away from promoting it… this special institution endures”. You can read the full lecture here.

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