Is it time for reform of civil partnerships?
When same sex marriage was introduced in 2013, Parliament decided not to abolish Civil Partnerships for same sex couples or to extend Civil Partnerships for opposite sex couples despite the fact that this would bring about inequality.
Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keiden challenged this position. They wanted full legal recognition of their relationship but they did not wish to marry because of their personal objections to the institution of marriage.
The couple, who have two young daughters, claimed that the Governments position on Civil Partnerships (same sex couples only) is incompatible with equality law. They took their case to the Court of Appeal but it was defeated in 2018. They were given permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, which is the UK’s highest Court, and their appeal was unanimously allowed.
Throughout the couples’ campaign they met hundreds of other couples who are in a committed, loving relationships but who do not wish to marry for a variety of reasons. To name but a few; past bad experiences; personal views on marriage as well as religious views. In the case of Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keiden, they held deep rooted and ideological objections to marriage. In their words, marriage held “patriarchal baggage”. This view made marriage incompatible with their conscience.
Campaigners argued that it cannot be fair that same sex couples have two options, Civil Partnership and civil marriage whereas opposite sex couples only have the option of marriage.
It is estimated that over three million couples in the UK cohabit with little or no protection in the event of separation. A change in the law would lead to many entering into Civil Partnerships as it provides the same legal protection to couples who are married but without what some see as the religious and patriarchal connotations associated with marriage.
The Supreme Court has acknowledged that Civil Partnerships need to be reformed as the current law is incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It waits to be seen how the Government will respond but it is hoped that this result puts pressure on the Government to reform the law on Civil Partnerships.