Should Civil Partnerships be extended to Opposite-Sex Couples?

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In 2004, the government passed a law that allowed same-sex couples to enter into Civil Partnerships. Civil Partnerships were designed to be very similar to marriages, but by making them distinct from marriage the government hoped to appease campaigners who opposed the idea of marriage-equality for same-sex couples.

All laws relating to marriage were amended so that they also related in the same way to Civil Partnerships. However, there are a few noticeable differences.

  • Firstly, no religious readings, music or symbols can be used when a Civil Partnership is formed. This is because they are intended to be similar to civil marriages rather than religious marriages. From 2011, the law in England and Wales was slightly amended to allow them to take place in religious venues but those venues cannot be forced to hold them if they chose not to.
  • The other legal differences all relate to sex. The government decided that sex should not be an important part of a civil partnership, unlike a marriage, and so you cannot: annul a Civil Partnership on the grounds that you have not had sex since you entered it or on the grounds that the other person had an STI when you entered it; and you cannot get a divorce on the grounds of adultery. You can do all of these things in a marriage.

In 2014, England, Wales and Scotland changed their laws again to allow same-sex couples to enter into marriage as well. So, same-sex couples can now choose marriage or Civil Partnership. Opposite-sex couples can only get married. This sparked campaigns to allow opposite-sex couples an equal right to enter into Civil Partnerships.

Right now, there is a legal challenge arguing that opposite-sex couples are being discriminated against. The heterosexual couple (Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan) bringing this case say that they are morally opposed to marriage because of its tradition and history. They argue that a Civil Partnership would be able to give them all of the protection of marriage, but without its traditions and connotations, and that denying them the right to a Civil Partnership discriminates against them because of their sexuality.

There is certainly a gap in the law: thousands of cohabiting couples have no legal protections and there is a widely-believed myth that there is a ‘common law marriage’ that exists to protect couple after a certain length of time together. You can read our article regarding Cohabitation here.

The Court of Appeal are next to decide whether Civil Partnerships should be available to opposite-sex couples so we await their verdict.

To contact one of our specialist Family Law team, please click here.


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