The courts have taken the first step towards legalising Civil Partnerships for heterosexual couples. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan’s widely publicised appeal for heterosexual Civil Partnership has been upheld by the Supreme Court by a unanimous vote. This means that Parliament should enact a new law to allow couples to enter into a Civil Partnership regardless of whether they are heterosexual or same sex.
Civil Partnerships have exclusively been available for same sex couples since the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in 2004. Since the Marriage (same sex couples) Act was introduced in 2013, there has been increased pressure on the courts and Parliament to update the law regarding Civil Partnerships to allow both same sex and heterosexual couples to achieve equality.
There has been much media hype about Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan’s fight for heterosexual couples to be able to have a Civil Partnership since October 2014. They gave notice of their intention to form a Civil Partnership but this application was refused because they were not of the same sex.
A Civil Partnership offers legal and financial protection for both parties in the event of the parties separating (like in a marriage). A Civil Partnership is free of the religious connotations of a traditional marriage. This makes a Civil Partnership appealing to unmarried cohabiting couples.
A brief history of the case
- December 2014 – The couple seek judicial review at the High Court as they believed that the Civil Partnership Act was not compatible with human rights law, specifically Article 8’s right for family life to be respected. They also argued that the Act transgressed Article 14 which provides for the protection of human rights pursuant to the European Convention.
- February 2015 – The High Court grants permission for their claim to proceed through the courts.
- January 2016 – The couple’s claim is heard by the High Court. The Judge rules that the continuation of the ban on heterosexual Civil Partnership was lawful but nonetheless granted the couple the immediate right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
- November 2016 – The case was heard by the Court of Appeal.
- February 2017 – The Court of Appeal decided that the couple’s rights had been breached and that the ban on heterosexual Civil Partnership should not continue. The court gave the Government a limited period of time to decide what to do in this regard.
- August 2017 – The Supreme Court gives permission for the case to proceed.
- May 2018 – The case is heard by the Supreme Court.
- July 2018 – The Supreme Court Judgement is released. In a unanimous vote, the Judges rule that the government’s refusal to allow heterosexual Civil Partnership is incompatible with Article’s 8 and 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The upshot of this judgement is that Parliament should now enact a new law which allows both heterosexual and same sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how quickly the Government responds to the judgement and implements the new law. The judgement will allow heterosexual couples to choose whether or not to enter into a marriage or a Civil Partnership.
Hopefully, the number of people who enter into a Civil Partnership or marriage will be monitored over the next few years and in that way, we will be able to ascertain whether or not there is a preference for marriage or alternatively Civil Partnership.
There have been calls to implement the new law immediately by many legal professionals.
Watch this space.