Ross Clark

Why didn’t the Tories back down over civil partnerships earlier?

Why didn't the Tories back down over civil partnerships earlier?
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Much as I deplore the integration of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law there are some battles which really aren’t worth fighting. Today, Theresa May announced that civil partnerships are to be made available to heterosexual couples for the first time. This follows a ruling by the Supreme Court in June that the current arrangements – whereby gay couples can enter into a civil partnership but not heterosexual ones – are in conflict with the convention.

Why on Earth did the Government resist this change in the first place when it was so plainly obvious that it was discriminatory? David Cameron made a huge fuss about enabling gay marriage – presenting it as if it were the greatest breakthrough in individual freedom since the Magna Carta. Yet he refused to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples on the grounds that it really wasn’t important – they could just get married instead. Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld begged to differ. No outmoded, patriarchal ceremony for them – they fancied what they call the “modern, symmetrical institution” of a civil partnership and were prepared to take the Government to court to achieve it.

No, I don’t see eye to eye with this couple, either. I don’t see why they can’t just get married and be done with. Being a husband wouldn’t exactly oblige Charles to keep a riding crop to hand in order to keep his wife in order – or whatever else other practices he associates with marriage. But whatever their reasons, it was something they felt strongly about – just as many gay couples felt strongly about being able to enter a marriage rather than a civil partnership. By denying heterosexual couples the right to a civil partnership, Cameron undermined his case for gay marriage – he was effectively saying it doesn’t matter what you call the contract which seals your relationship, so just get on with it. He, followed by Theresa May, continued to make a stand against heterosexual civil partnerships even after threats to take the Government through a hopeless fight in the courts.

It is a sad comment on what the Government sees as important. Just think of the human rights battles on which the Government could have spent its time and money on instead – like stopping terrorists abusing human rights laws to avoid deportation, murderers trying to avoid whole life tariffs, criminals demanding compensation for a delay in parole…