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From 'pretended family relationship' to 'ultimate affirmation': British conservatism and the legal recognition of same-sex relationships [2014] CFLQ 463

Date:4 JUN 2015
Keywords: Marriage - civil partnership - conservatism - sexuality - family - law

How to deal with non-heterosexuality has been a particular source of tension within the body of post-war Conservatism, laying bare the traditional and libertarian dispositions at war between its members. This article will first sketch out the Conservative Party's record on homosexual law reform since the 1980s, and then go on to consider arguments around the legal recognition of same-sex relationships in relevant conservative thought. This discussion will then inform the examination of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The article concludes by observing that, while there were some similarities in the Conservative Party's approach to the two Bills, conservative arguments in favour of the legal recognition of same-sex relationships were more readily articulated in the civil partnership debates chiefly because it was seen as an evolutionary development and there was no existing institution which would be the subject of change. How Conservatives perceived notions of change in the legislation was indicative of whether the Bills would attract their support (and vice versa), signifying the limited utility of a conservative understanding of change as a practical theory for supporting major social developments.