Civil Partnerships, a legal victory for equality?
In June 2018, heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld, 37 and Charles Keidan, 41, won a ground breaking legal challenge at the Supreme Court for the right enter a civil partnership.
Currently, Section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 only permits same-sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership and since March 2014 the rules were extended to include marriage.
The couple’s lawyers argued that Section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everyone should be treated equally by law, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. These Convention rights are currently incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998.
According to Article 8, the “Right to respect for private and family life” provides that “(1) Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. (2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
Further Article 14, focusing on “Prohibition of discrimination” provides that “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
Mr Keidan explained, ‘there are 3.3million cohabiting couples in the UK, we are the fastest growing family type….many want legal and financial security but cannot have this because in the eyes of the law they are not married. The law and government needs to catch up with family life in 2018. People are already suffering because of this….’
He went on to remark that the ‘legacy of marriage’ which ‘treated women as property for centuries’ was not acceptable to them and that civil partnership was a ‘modern, symmetrical institution’.
The Supreme Court ruled in their favour noting, ‘the government knew that it was perpetrating unequal treatment by the introduction of [gay marriage] but it decided to take no action’ because ministers could not decide how to proceed.
The couple’s legal battle has won support from equality activists who have criticised the outdated and patriarchal institution of marriage.
On the other hand, the Court’s judgement has prompted outcry from some religious groups. Ciarán Kelly, deputy director of The Christian Institute, told Christian Today the decision was ‘unnecessary and unhelpful’ and suggested their should be a ‘fundamental review’ on the law relating to civil partnerships. He commented ‘this is yet another fundamental attack on marriage from a court system that seems determined to do all it can to undermine it.
Although the Supreme Court has reached a decision on this matter, the government are not compelled to change the law. However, the couple urged Women’s Minister Penny Mordant to fast track a private member’s bill supporting their cause.
The differences between cohabitation, civil partnership and marriage can raise many legal questions so it is essential to take early legal advice. It is not yet known how far this decision will reach although it is not expected to bring about immediate wholesale change.
At Coffin Mew, we offer practical and straightforward advice on all types of family law matters.
If you would like further guidance or have any questions, please contact Marie Stock, Senior Associate.