Under the terms of a civil partnership a couple is entitled to the same legal treatment in terms of tax, pensions, inheritance and next-of-kin arrangements as if they were married.
There are an estimated 3.3 million unmarried couples currently living in England and Wales who could take advantage of the new arrangements and the government predicts that uptake could be as high as 84,000 in the first year, with numbers stabilising at around 30,000 a year by 2029.
Civil partnerships for mixed-sex couples are now legal, meaning that mixed-sex couples now have the right to choose whether to marry or alternatively, enter into a civil partnership.
Until recently, civil partnerships have been reserved for same-sex couples and they represented the only way for many people to formalise their relationship until the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014.
One Couple's Story Which Led to Legal Change
In October 2014, Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan tried to form a civil partnership at their local town hall, only to be told that because they were not of the same sex, this could not be done. They were advised that civil partnerships were only reserved for couples of the same sex.
Following this, Rebecca and Charles launched a legal challenge in the form of a judicial review, which allows individuals to challenge the law. Their case was eventually heard in the Supreme Court in May 2018.
The couple's position was that they had "deep rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage". Their barrister said matrimony was "historically heteronormative and patriarchal" and the couple's objections were "not frivolous".
Following deliberation from the judges in the Supreme Court, they gave the unanimous ruling that the government's refusal to allow mixed-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships was incompatible with human rights law.
How Has the Law Changed?
Following the Supreme Court's ruling, the government pledged to allow mixed-sex couples in England and Wales to enter into civil partnerships, and legislation was passed in 2019 allowing for a change in the law. Secondary legislation was required before those provisions could become law, but following recent approval from the House of Lords, the Secretary of State was required to issue the regulations allowing for mixed-sex civil partnerships by 31 December 2019.
The same reforms will soon be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland too.
What Is the Basis for This Legal Change?
Traditionally, principles of marriage are rooted within religion and would involve a religious ceremony. Civil ceremonies have become more popular. However, there are strict rules as to what constitutes a legally-binding marriage which can be restrictive on those wishing to get married outside of a typically religious building.
Some couples, like Rebecca and Charles, feel that the institution of marriage isn’t compatible with their beliefs and ideologies. As such, being unable to enter into a civil partnership was viewed as discriminatory.
Concerns that mixed-sex civil partnerships would undermine the institution of marriage have diminished and many people now see them as offering a route for cohabitants to secure their rights.