Civil partnerships “could be the norm” in the next decade if legislation is passed to make them open to mixed-sex couples, a campaigner has said.
Martin Loat, chairman of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign, which won the right for mixed-sex couples to enter into the union in England and Wales, told MSPs a similar law change could make the partnerships increasingly popular in Scotland.
Giving evidence at the Equalities and Human Rights Committee on the first stage of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill – which seeks to diversify who can enter into a civil partnership – Mr Loat stressed the importance of ensuring people who are legally married have the option to convert that into a civil partnership.
The partnerships are legally binding and grant many of the same benefits as marriage, including on taxation and inheritance, but without any religious connotations.
Civil partnerships were initially passed in 2004, allowing formal recognition of same-sex relationships.
An amendment to the initial legislation for England and Wales was introduced last year to allow for mixed-sex couples after a case at the Supreme Court found the existing legislation to be against the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mr Loat told MSPs: “There’s a new social construct here in mixed-sex civil partnerships and who knows how it’s going to mature or develop.
“My view is that it’s silently building and it’s going to get bigger and bigger, and more and more popular, and five, 10, 15 years from now that could be the norm for many people when they see others in their peer group joining in with mixed-sex civil partnerships.”
Dr Kelly Kollman, a senior politics lecturer at Glasgow University, agreed with Mr Loat’s view of a possible increase in popularity, citing international examples.
She said: “The PACS, which is a registered partnership-lite type thing in France, has become increasingly more popular so that now for every five marriages there are four PACS in France, and that’s something that has changed over the years.
“Even the registered partnership in the Netherlands which was open to mixed and same-sex couples, was never all that popular for a variety of reasons but it has become actually increasingly more popular.
“I think things are changing and the direction of travel in other European countries is that mixed-sex partnerships have become more popular as well.”
Mr Loat supports the possibility of conversion from marriage to mixed-sex civil partnership, which is currently under consultation in England and Wales.
He said: “There is an argument that couples who find themselves in traditional marriages when in fact they would have preferred a mixed-sex civil partnership had it been available, they should be able to convert.
“I totally agree with that.”
Mr Loat added it should be made clear there is no time limit between the passage of the Bill and when a couple can change their relationship status – with one of the reasons being it may take time for couples to reach a decision on the change.