Recently we brought you the news on the fight to make civil partnerships available to all. (See link for past article – http://www.grayfords.co.uk/qa-the-fight-to-make-civil-partnership-available-to-all/)
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan are a couple who have been living together in a long term relationship but do not identify with the traditional patriarchal ideals of marriage. If they had to define their relationship, according to them they would classify it as a civil partnership arrangement. What’s problematic for them is that English law does not recognise the concept of a heterosexual couple living as a legal civil partnership. Heterosexual couples must marry to achieve legal recognition of their relationship status. In other jurisdictions, such as Canada, civil partnerships among heterosexual couples are acknowledged.
So then, is the law of England and Wales behind the times and need of a change? Let’s quickly recap what happened in the current case. The couple’s case was built on the grounds that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is discriminatory on the grounds of sexual orientation. This is because the Act only permits legal recognition of same sex couples wishing to formally become civil partners but denies this right to heterosexual couples. Therefore, the couple alleged that this statute should be declared to be incompatible with the Human Rights Act 1998.
The rationale for the dismissal of the appeal was that civil partnerships were a thing of the past because now that same sex couples can legally marry; there will be no need for them. However, this is dancing around the issue and not directly addressing it. Perhaps this is why it is problematic to enact separate statutory acts for same sex couples instead of just incorporating such couples into the original statutory acts. But again, this wouldn’t resolve the issue at hand – could heterosexual couples enter into civil partnerships and be given legal status of being more than just flatmates?
According to Justice Andrews, the UK was under no obligation to extend marriage to same sex couples in the past and likewise the UK is under no obligation to extend civil partnership status to heterosexual couples. When the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was created, legislative drafters included language stating that civil partners had to be ‘two people of the same sex’. However, the drafters did not anticipate that a future challenge may be made by heterosexual couples wanting to live as civil partners. While the decision was not what the couple had desired, it has opened up the debate on this issue and garnered support for their challenge. At this point, the simplest way to correct the perceived deficiency is for parliament to take action to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 by statute or secondary legislation. And, it seems to be on the way to doing this, with a second reading of the amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 scheduled for March 11, 2016.
We’ll bring you further updates as we have, whether Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan decide to appeal their case further, or Parliament progresses the proposed amendment to the current legislation.
If you have any questions regarding civil partnerships or same sex marriages, or about what your rights are within a relationship, please contact a Grayfords specialist.