The 12-week consultation by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) closes on 17 April 2014, and allows any member of the public to complete and return a form online or as a hard copy to be considered.
During the parliamentary debate around the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, which will take effect on 29 March 2014, this consultation was tabled as a response to many questions around civil partnerships.
There are several possible outcomes. Some wish for civil partnerships to be opened up to opposite-sex couples, in order to give the option of civil partnerships or marriage to any couple.
Others have suggested that same-sex couples in civil partnerships could be automatically converted to marriage, and civil partnerships could be phased out altogether.
A third option of “grandfathering” the 2004 Civil Partnerships Act, which would mean that gay couples already in civil partnerships would remain so, but no civil partnerships would be issued in future.
A message from Helen Grant, Minister for Equalities, said: “We recently celebrated a historic moment for our society – making marriage available to everyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender. Now all couples will be able to enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate their love for each other and the commitment they wish to make through marriage.
“Over time, the fact that same sex couples can now marry will clearly affect the future of civil partnership. It is right, therefore, to start a review of the operation and future of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. We are doing so by launching this consultation to seek people’s views on the main options for any future changes.”
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell repeatedly called for the coalition’s equal marriage plans to include civil partnerships for heterosexuals.
He criticised Culture Secretary and Minister for Equalities, Maria Miller, for ruling out the measure during the same-sex marriage debate.
Last year a DCMS spokesperson said: “Civil partnerships were created for a very specific reason – to give same-sex couples access to legal rights at a time when society was not ready to give them access to marriage.
“Now that the time is right to extend marriage to same-sex couples, it is also right that we should consider the future of civil partnerships. There are strong views on both sides of this debate, and we have listened to those views. A proper review will allow us to look at the issues in a considered and thorough way, giving full consideration to the implications of any changes.”