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Project description

Our research raises awareness around civil partnership reform, particularly the human rights implications through impactful networking with policymakers and practitioners.

Primary participants

Helen Fenwick Professor of Law
Andy Hayward Associate Professor of Law

About the research

Our project examines the utility of civil partnerships for domestic and international recognition of relationships. 

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Our project comprises of three interconnected strands drawing upon domestic and comparative family law along with Human Rights law:

  • An analysis of the current functioning of civil partnerships in England and Wales. It seeks to build a body of literature and expertise that tracks the evolution of civil partnerships while advising on its future following the forthcoming extension of the regime to different-sex couples.
  • To provide academic insight into the practical implications of future civil partnership reform as mandated by Section 2 of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 (resulting from the Supreme Court ruling in Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education).
  • An evaluation of the reform and introduction of registered partnerships in contracting states of the European Convention on Human Rights. This project particularly explores the value of access to a registered partnership, both where same-sex marriage is available and, even more significantly, where it is not.

Aims and objectives

Our project has contributed to current litigation, consultations, and general public awareness of the legal issues surrounding the reform of civil partnerships. It has the following aims and objectives in particular:


  • To promote greater understanding of the value of ensuring equal access to formalised relationship statuses for both different-sex and same-sex couples across Europe.


  • To recognise registered partnerships as valuable in their own right within the framework for relationship formalisation in a jurisdiction;
  • If same-sex marriage is introduced, to promote the value of retaining registered partnerships and extending them to different-sex couples;
  • To emphasise that the arguments for equality of access are human rights arguments and should be grounded in Article 8 and 14 ECHR and/or their domestic equivalents.


The researchers have extensive experience of organising international and national workshops and conferences:

  • Civil Partnership Panel (November 2018) - Dr Hayward's presented on comparative family law and trends in the evolution of registered/civil partnerships. He was joined by Charles Keidan, a litigant in the recent Supreme Court ruling on different-sex civil partnerships, and Karon Monaghan QC, who acted as counsel in that case.
  • The Impact of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign on Cohabitation Law Reform (October 2018) - Alongside Charles Keidan, Professor Fenwick and Dr Hayward presented their research on the next steps for England and Wales to members a leading organisation of family law practitioners.
  • Reflections on Steinfeld Workshop (June 2016) - Analysing the High Court decision in Steinfeld, Dr Hayward organised an ESRC funded workshop at Trinity College, Cambridge. The event brought together academics, practitioners, and policymakers.
  • The Future of Registered Partnerships Conference (July 2015) - Dr Hayward co-organised an international conference at the Faculty of Law in Cambridge and Gonville and Caius College. It involved leading experts from over 15 European and non-European jurisdictions including academics, practitioners, activists, representatives from the Government Equalities Office, Ministry of Justice, and the Law Commission. Peter Tatchell (Peter Tatchell Foundation) provided the keynote address. Details to the event are available here.