Heterosexual Couple lose Civil Partnership Challenge

Beth Evans, Partner and Family Solicitor at WSP Solicitors

A heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, recently lost their Court of Appeal battle to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. They argued that opposite-sex couples are being discriminated against because of their sexuality and that a Civil Partnership would give them all of the protection of marriage, but without its traditions and connotations. The judges said there was a potential breach of their human rights, but the government should have more time to decide the future of Civil Partnership. Dan Squires, QC for the Secretary of State for Education, said the government planned to see how extending marriage to same-sex couples impacted on civil partnerships before making a final decision.

In 2004, the government passed a law that allowed same-sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership. The laws relating to marriage were amended so that they also related in the same way to Civil Partnerships, although there are a few noticeable differences:

  • Firstly, no religious readings, music or symbols can be used when Civil Partnerships are formed.
  • 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, for example, you cannot dissolve a Civil Partnership on the grounds of adultery.

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 however only get married and this sparked campaigns to allow opposite-sex couples an equal right to enter into Civil Partnerships.

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.

 

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