It was announced today by Theresa May that heterosexual couples will be able to enter into a civil partnership, a union previously restricted to same sex couples. This follows the Supreme Court unanimously ruling in June of this year that restricting civil partnerships to same sex couples was discriminatory and incompatible with European Law.
It has now been four years since Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan first launched their campaign and subsequent legal challenge for civil partnerships to be open to couples of the opposite sex. More than 130,000 people signed an online petition in support of civil partnerships for everyone. Other countries such as South Africa, New Zealand and the Netherlands allow couples to choose whether to enter into a marriage or civil partnership.
What is the current law?
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 enabled same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship by registering a civil partnership. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in 2014 and enabled same sex couples to get married or convert their civil partnership into marriage.
However, in the ruling given by Supreme Court in June the Judges commented that the government should have addressed the inequality between opposite and same sex couples in the 2014 Act by extending civil partnerships to same sex couples.
In light of today’s announcement, the government have now said that there were “a number of legal issues to consider across pension and family law.”
Does the proposed change in the law go far enough?
The latest government statistics are that there are more than 3.3 million unmarried couples in the UK who live together with shared financial responsibilities - more than half of these couples have children.
Teresa May stated that “this change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married.”
However, some family law practitioners believe that although today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, this must not detract from the fact that the current law is still failing unmarried couples who simply do not wish to enter into either a marriage or civil partnership.
It is still highly misunderstood that that there is no such thing as a common law marriage. Unmarried couples do not receive the same legal protections in the event of relationship breakdown or the death of a spouse and are not entitled to the same tax reliefs and exemptions.
Following today’s announcement, Law Society President Christina Blacklaws commented: “the law needs to catch up with, and reflect the multiple ways in which people choose to live their lives today. We are absolutely in favour of a review of all areas of the law affecting civil and religious contracts/marriages/partnerships.”