Civil partnerships … what next?
Article written by Rebecca Gunningham, Family and Matrimonial solicitor in our Family Law Department
On Wednesday 27th June 2018 the Supreme Court handed down judgment ending the three and a half year court battle for Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan on their right to enter into a civil partnership as a heterosexual couple. The Supreme Court unanimously found that the provisions of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 preventing heterosexual couples entering into civil partnerships are incompatible with the Human rights Act 1998 and amounted to discrimination.
In England and Wales same sex partners have more rights than different sex partners (unlike any other jurisdiction in the world) with their choice to either enter into a civil partnership or a marriage.
Steinfeld and Keidan held that they have ‘genuine, ideological objections to marriage,’ because of its ‘historically patriarchal nature’ and that heterosexual couples should have the option to enter into a civil partnership rather than a marriage if that is their choice. Currently heterosexual couples can either marry or remain as cohabitees where they have no legal recognition of their relationship and are consequently unable to use advantages, such as in relation to inheritance tax, afforded to those in a marriage or civil partnership.
In a joint statement the couple said:
“We have fought this battle not only on our own behalf but for 3.3 million unmarried couples in England and Wales. Many want legal recognition and financial protection, but cannot have it because they’re not married and because the choice of a civil partnership is not open to them. The law needs to catch up with the reality of family life in Britain in 2018.”
The government identified in 2014 three potential changes to be made to the law on civil partnerships but said that they needed to see more data before taking any steps due in part to the potential cost and disruption. Simply abolishing civil partnerships completely would mean dissolving legal ties that unite 63,000 people leading to uncertainty for those same sex couples who have already entered a civil partnership. The Supreme Court said that the lack of government resources is no reason for delay and the law must be changed immediately to rectify the breach of human rights, which should have been done when the law permitting same sex marriage came into force.
The government must now act fast. They have a decision to make as to whether civil partnerships are abolished, they simply stop new civil partnerships being registered or whether they allow different sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. It is already possible in the Isle of Man to register an opposite-sex civil partnership but these are not legally recognised in the UK. Other countries such as South Africa, New Zealand and the Netherlands allow same sex couples to choose either civil partnerships or marriage so will England and Wales now follow suit?
The prime minister’s official spokesman after the Supreme Court judgment was handed down said that more time was needed for the government equality office to consider all aspects of civil partnerships for heterosexual and same-sex couples. In May 2018, most likely in consideration of this judgement, the government published a command paper on the issue of how to proceed in respect of civil partnerships. We are therefore likely to see change imminently but need to wait to see whether this will be the end of civil partnerships or the start of a new era where couples are able to choose to enter either civil partnerships or marriage.
If you have any queries or concerns relating to your legal rights in relation to a civil partnership or marriage then please contact our matrimonial team on 0207 408 8888.