Gloria De Piero: The Government must begin to allow civil partners to convert to marriage

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Shadow Equalities Minister Gloria De Piero has criticised the Government for taking too long to allow same-sex couples in civil partnerships to convert to marriage.

A day before same-sex marriage took effect in England and Wales, Ms De Piero wrote an open letter to Maria Miller, then Culture Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, to urge her to “publish a clear timetable” for the changes to be made, in order to allow those in civil partnerships to convert.

“It is unclear why these provisions are taking so long to implement”, she wrote.

Now Maria Miller’s replacement, Sajid Javid, has responded, but despite criticism for the length of time it is taking for the new procedures to be put in place, did not give a guarantee that those in civil partnerships would be able to convert by the end of the year.

In his response, he wrote: “Our priority was to ensure that same sex couples who had been waiting to be able to marry in order to formalise their relationship were able to do so as soon as possible. That is why our focus has been on enabling marriages to take place, and as a result this has happened several months earlier than anticipated.”

Despite Ms De Piero’s letter, and others, criticising the Government for not having set a clear timetable for implementing the changes to allow those in civil partnerships to marriages, Mr Javid gave no guarantee in his response that this would happen by the end of 2014.

He continued: “Nonetheless, we are continuing to work hard to ensure that couples wanting to convert their civil partnerships into marriages, and married people wanting to change their legal gender while remaining married, are able to do so as soon as possible. We aim to do this before the end of 2014.”

Echoing the reasons given previously by the Government, Mr Javid went on to state that the reason it is taking longer to allow civil partnerships to be converted is that, unlike marriage which builds on already in place systems, they have to start from scratch with all legislation and processes.

Among the reasons for the delay, Mr Javid said IT systems, staff training, legislative changes and designing new application forms and certificates were to blame.

He went on: “Couples who convert their civil partnership into a marriage will be treated as if their marriage had begun on the date their civil partnership was registered. But, since civil partners are currently treated differently from married people in certain aspects of the social security system, we need to investigate all instances where these differences arise and change the law as necessary to avoid having to make a complex recalculation of benefit entitlement, which would be complicated to administer and could have unpredictable results.”

Gloria De Piero MP, Shadow Minister for Equalities has responded, telling PinkNews: “Couples across England and Wales have waited long enough to be able to convert their civil partnerships.

“It is totally unacceptable for the Government to continue to drag its feet and refuse to issue a clear timetable for implementation. It took Labour a year to implement Civil Partnerships, and we were setting up a new system from scratch. Sajid Javid needs to get on and get this sorted.”

A Government consultation into the future of civil partnerships closed two weeks ago. Some have noted the consultation as a possible reason the Government has not yet made the necessary changes.