Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan made national headlines recently as they took to the courts their case for a civil partnership, despite being in a heterosexual relationship. As the law currently stands, only same-sex couples are allowed to enter into civil partnerships, since this was made legal in 2005. Heterosexual couples have the option to marry, so why are some couples campaigning for a civil partnership?
What are differences between a civil partnerships and a marriage?
Marriages and civil partnerships can look similar in many ways. They are both ceremonies for the legal union of a couple. Both unions cover legal arrangements such as tax, pensions and inheritance.
The two differ however in the fact that couples in civil partnerships are not allowed to say they are “married” for legal reasons. The topic of adultery is also viewed differently in a civil partnership, as it is not seen as a valid reason to “dissolve” the partnership (unlike in a marriage where adultery is counted as grounds for divorce). Civil partnerships also have less religious connotations compared to marriages, which have religious origins.
Civil partnerships were introduced into the legal system in 2005 and are only available for gay or lesbian couples. However, in 2014, same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK. This means that gay couples now have the choice between getting married or having a civil partnership.
Why are heterosexual couples campaigning for civil partnerships?
Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan argued their case for civil partnerships as they claimed that their inability to have a civil partnership is "incompatible with equality law”. They also stated that they did not want the “patriarchal baggage” that comes with a marriage.
LGBT+ activist Peter Tatchell said: “It’s time for ‘straight’ equality,” Adding “The ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships is discrimination and a violation of human rights. It cannot be fair that same-sex couples now have two options, civil partnerships and civil marriages, whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage.”
The couple, who have two young children together said, “We have met hundreds of couples like us who love each other and want a civil partnership so they can celebrate their commitment and strengthen the security of their family unit. Their reasons for not wanting to marry vary from bad personal experiences to expense to conscience – but that doesn’t matter. All they want is the choice of marriage or a civil partnership to suit them.”
Will civil partnerships be available to heterosexual couples in the future?
Despite their efforts and their support, Rebecca Stienfield and Charles Keiden’s case was unsuccessful. The Court concluded last month that although the couple had highlighted a violation of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the majority vote of judges in Court (two to one) said the case could be justified by the government’s policy of “wait and evaluate”.
UK Government considered the appeal with the consideration of the general public with a full debate in parliament. They came to an agreement that laws for same-sex couples ability to have civil partnership should not be changed, and that the case will not go any further.
The future of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples is looking unlikely to change anytime in the near future, but it is hard to predict how the law will change in years to come. No matter what the future has in store, the debate will no doubt continue.
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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.