Civil partnership equality, and the question of its relevance and importance, has been all over the news recently.
A heterosexual couple have taken their legal fight to enter into a civil partnership rather than a marriage to the high court, in an attempt to prove that opposite-sex couples are being subject to discrimination.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 stipulates that only same sex couples are eligible and it enables them to obtain legal recognition of their relationship.
Couples who form a civil partnership have a new legal status (that of 'civil partner'), and civil partners have equal treatment to married couples in a wide range of legal matters e.g. next-of-kin, tax, pensions, inheritance …etc.
The Guardian reported that Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who have been in a relationship since November 2010 and have a baby together, reject marriage on the grounds that it is a “patriarchal institution” and they maintain that the government’s position on civil partnerships is “incompatible with equality law”.
High Court Case Lost
The article goes on to say that their judicial review application was dismissed, with the high court judge, Mrs Justice Andrews saying:
“just as the UK was under no obligation to extend marriage to same-sex couples, it has never been under an obligation to extend civil partnership to heterosexual couples. The denial of a further means of formal recognition which is open to same-sex couples, does not amount to unlawful state interference with the claimants’ right to family life or private life, any more than the denial of marriage to same-sex couples did prior to the enactment of the 2013 act.”
She added: “This is not a case where they cannot achieve formal state recognition of their relationship, with all the rights, benefits and protections that flow from such recognition; on the contrary, it is open to them to obtain that recognition by getting married.
“The alleged interference by the state with their right to private life by denying them the right to enter a civil partnership is even more tenuous. There is no evidence that they are subjected to humiliation, derogatory treatment, or any other lack of respect for their private lives on grounds of their heterosexual orientation by reason of the withholding of the status of civil partners from them.”
Despite the dismissal, Andrews gave them permission to take their case to the court of appeal because the case raised issues of ‘wider importance’.
This is not the first time the question of civil partnership equality has been raised and debated. Both in 2009 and 2010, Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle were denied civil partnership twice.
And as the BBC reported at the time, Tom and Katherine were like many straight couples - they don't want to get married, but they still want to make a lifetime commitment to each other. And they'd like greater legal and financial security than that offered by simply cohabiting.
6 years on and opposite-sex couples continue to fight for their rights - it’s clear that the issue of civil partnership equality is here to stay.
The Campaign Goes On
Following Steinfeld and Keidan’s case dismissal and their plans to appeal, Ava Lee (Campaign Manager of the Equal Civil Partnership campaign ) said:
“…our campaign for equal civil partnerships will continue.
Over 36,000 people have written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, asking her to open up civil partnerships. We hope that following the judicial review, the government will reconsider its position on civil partnerships and offer the 3 million cohabiting couples in the UK an additional option for celebrating and cementing their relationships, and provide their 1.9million dependent children with the same level of security offered to the children of married parents”.
At Susan Howarth &Co, we know the differences between cohabiting, civil partnership and marriage can raise a lot of questions, particularly when it comes to understanding where you stand in the eyes of the law.
If you’d like some straight answers or if you need any help or advice, please contact myself or Victoria Poole on 01606 48777.