Heterosexual Couple Win the Right to Civil Partnership

10 July 2018

A heterosexual couple have been fighting for a change to the law which would enable opposite-sex couples to enter into Civil Partnerships. In the latest hearing, the UK Supreme Court ruled in the couple's favour, declaring that not allowing heterosexual couples to enter into Civil Partnerships was a human rights violation.

Update 31 December 2019: Civil Partnerships were made available to mixed sex couples on this date, and the first mixed sex Civil Partnerships have now been registered. The following contents of this article were published in July 2018 and remain unchanged since this date.

The Civil Partnership Debate

Civil Partnerships were introduced in England and Wales in 2005. The purpose of this was to give same sex couples the option to have their relationship legally recognised, when marriage was unavailable to them. Until now the law has only permitted same-sex couples to enter into Civil Partnerships.

With marriage for same-sex couples legalised in 2014, some have argued that Civil Partnerships are now obsolete. Others feel that all couples should be able to choose marriage or Civil Partnership, depending on which option is best suited to them.

In a legal battle that has lasted over four years, a heterosexual British couple have been fighting for the right to enter into a Civil Partnership. The couple in question, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, met in 2010 and have two children together. They want legal recognition for their relationship, but disagree with the principles of marriage.

With the popularity of marriage declining, the couple and their supporters believe that it's important for cohabiting heterosexual couples to be offered an alternative to marriage. Currently, cohabiting couples have no legal protection in the event of separation or of one person's death. Civil Partnerships offer similar legal rights and protection as marriage, but unlike marriage they have no religious grounding.

In February 2017, the couple lost their case at the Court of Appeal. However, they continued in their campaign and in August 2017 they were told they could take their case to the Supreme Court, which is the highest Court in the UK.

Meanwhile, the Government planned to conduct extensive research on the topic to determine what the future of Civil Partnerships should be. They expected this task to take up to 4 years, intending to formulate their response to the issue by 2020. For more information, see Should Civil Partnerships Be Available to All?

The Supreme Court, however, said that it was not appropriate for the Government to take so long to address the issue. In the hearing in late June 2018, they ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan.

What Does the Ruling Mean?

In the Supreme Court's ruling, all five judges unanimously agreed that the existing law on Civil Partnerships breached human rights legislation. The implications of this ruling are huge, as it means the Government now agrees that the law on Civil Partnerships needs to be changed.

Although this is a turning point in the Civil Partnerships debate, it is not yet clear what action will be taken to address the ruling. Changes to legislation are complicated and can take a long time to implement, so the ruling doesn't mean that Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld can head straight to the registry office to register their Civil Partnership.

Nonetheless, this is a significant step forward for the campaign and its supporters. The couple feel that opening Civil Partnerships to all is the natural way forward from here, and they are urging the Government to "act with urgency" in bringing this change into law.

Head of Family Law at Co-op Legal Services commented, "My view is that Civil Partnerships for all should be legalised and recognised, and that the Supreme Court ruling was the correct one. In this age there are fewer marriages and an increasing number of cohabiting couples. If a couple intend to live together in the same way as a married couple, and even raise a family together, their decision not to marry shouldn't mean they cannot have their relationship legally recognised."

While the future of Civil Partnerships is not yet clear and the true impact of this ruling remains to be seen, we will continue to monitor the debate with interest.

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