A few months ago, we were following the case of Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan, a heterosexual couple living in London, who wished to challenge the English law regarding civil partnership rights for opposite sex couples. The pair rejected the notion of marriage on the grounds that it was a patriarchal institution and wanted legal recognition of their relationship status by way of a civil partnership. Unfortunately, the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, governing England & Wales, only allows same-sex couples, not opposite sex couples, eligibility to enter into a civil partnership. The couple, having been denied the right to enter a civil partnership by their local register office, began proceedings in the High Court. Their case was rejected but an appeal has been lodged and will be heard in November of this year.
If you’re wondering why we’ve turned our attention again to this issue, it’s because of the recent developments on this subject matter in the Isle of Man which could lead to the resurfacing of this very issue again in the UK and perhaps lead to a more favourable outcome. The Isle of Man will now allow heterosexual couples the option to enter into a civil partnerships arrangement instead of the traditional marriage route. Earlier this year, the Marriage and Civil Partnership Amendment 2016 legislation was introduced with the primary objective of allowing same sex couples to marry and more importantly conferring to them the corresponding rights of those in opposite sex married couples. What’s more is that instead of stopping there, the Isle of Man went further and extended the law to allow heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership. Critics state that the Isle of Man’s new statutory regime is incremental in that if a relationship fails, it doesn’t create the same legal and financial obligations that apply to same-sex couples which are equivalent to marriage.
So, are you’re wondering what’s the big deal? Why does this even matter? Isn’t the legal system of Isle of Man different from the UK anyway? The legal system on the Isle of Man is known as Manx customary law, which is a form of common law derived from Gaelic Brehon and Norse Udal law. More specifically, Manx law has a distinct system of insular binding precedent (i.e. based on cases that arise before the island’s courts) while precedents from the English legal system are considered persuasive on Manx courts. Similarly, in terms of its statutory regime, the law has developed from two sources – the Acts of Tynwald (insular legislation) and Acts of the Imperial Parliament (Westminster). For a long time, it was assumed that Acts of Parliament were the supreme law of the Isle of Man and Manx courts would dis-apply any part of an Act of Tynwald that was in conflict. However, despite the heavy English law influence, it seems that the Isle of Man has veered off on its own course, especially in the area of family law.
In closing, while the Isle of Man is a crown dependency separate from the UK, it will have the effect of generating new pressure among heterosexual couples who wish to be able to form a civil partnership in the UK. This change has left many people pondering why can’t equal civil partnerships exist for opposite sex couples in the UK counterparts? There also remain some grey areas with this new law, would civil partnerships recognised in Isle of Man be considered valid in the UK? Is the UK law regarding civil partnerships among heterosexual couples lagging behind?