Heterosexual couple win civil partnership case

Back in 2017 we reported on a study which called for civil partnerships to be made available to all couples. Currently the law in England and Wales only allows same sex couples to enter into a civil partnership, which gives them the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage. There are around 63,000 couples in civil partnerships in the UK though the numbers have declined since March 2014 when it became legal for same sex couples to marry.

However, heterosexual couples only have the option of marriage. If the couple do not agree with the concept of marriage for whatever reason they can only remain a co-habiting couple. Should this be the case and their relationship breaks down they do not have the same protection as there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’.

Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, from London started their legal battle in 2016 to be allowed the right to enter into a civil partnership. The couple, who met in London in 2010 and have two children, said the “legacy of marriage” which “treated women as property for centuries” was not an option for them. Their first hearing in the High Court in January 2016 was rejected by judges. They appealed to the Court of Appeal who heard their case in February 2017. They were rejected again but undeterred, Rebecca and Charles took their case to the Supreme Court. Today (27 June 2018) the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in their favour stating that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judges ruled that current UK law was “incompatible” with human rights laws on discrimination and the right to a private and family life. Announcing the court’s decision, Lord Kerr said the government did not seek to justify the difference in treatment between same-sex and different sex couples. “To the contrary, it accepts that the difference cannot be justified,” he said.

Ms Steinfeld said she hoped the Government does the right thing and extends civil partnerships to all. “We are feeling elated, but at the same time we are feeling frustrated the Government has wasted taxpayers’ money in fighting what the judges have called a blatant inequality.”

The judgement does not oblige Government to change the law but given this ruling and the growing pressure by society for UK law to keep up with social views, it is likely change could be forthcoming.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk