This week marked the end of a 4 year legal journey to the UK Supreme Court for Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who have been striving for their right to enter into a civil partnership as a heterosexual couple since October 2014.
Following a two day hearing, the Justices will now have to determine whether the government’s current position in not allowing heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships is incompatible with Article 14 (no discrimination) and Article 8 (right to a private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Under the current law, heterosexual couples are unable to form a civil partnership simply on the basis thatonly same-sex couples are eligible. . The only option for heterosexual couples who wish to formalise their relationship is to get married. For many heterosexual couples who strongly oppose the traditional model of marriage, this is simply not an option for them and there is no other choice but to cohabit without the financial and legal security that marriage and civil partnerships offer. This cannot be right or fair in a society where the concept of the modern family is ever changing and yet the law continues to lag behind. In the last week, rumour has it that the government may even repeal the legislation altogether, which would abolish civil partnerships entirely (and possibly as a halfway house all future civil partnerships). Either way, further regress may be on the cards.
Unfortunately, there is no legal framework for cohabiting couples that offers the same legal rights and protection for those who are married or in a civil partnership. There are currently just over 3 million cohabiting couples in the UK and for many the financial vulnerability on a relationship breakdown is stark. These individuals have no legal rights to financial provision on relationship breakdown, pension rights on death, marriage allowances and tax breaks. The limited rights they do have only concern the ownership of property (with reference to complex principles of property and trust law) and financial claims on behalf of any child of the family (including child maintenance claims).
Offering civil partnerships to cohabiting heterosexual couples will provide the same protection that marriage does; bringing fairness, equality and stability to many families across the country. So we await with bated breath, the decision of the Supreme Court following yesterday’s hearing. Should the court determine that the current law is incompatible, there will be considerable pressure on the government to take the next step and open up civil partnerships to heterosexual couples ensuring equality for all. We may finally be on the road to much needed family law reforms that accommodate for modern families.
If you haven’t already, please sign the petition for Equal Civil Partnerships for all, please email your MP and please get involved.