A heterosexual couple, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld appealed to the Supreme Court to decide whether none same sex couples should be allowed to enter into civil partnerships.
Why? Most straight couples wouldn’t think about a civil partnership ceremony when they have the opportunity to get married. For homosexual couples the rate of civil partnerships is falling as same sex couples now have the option of marriage as an alternative to registering a civil partnership.
So why is the option of civil partnership so important to Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan? The press report that the couple have an ‘’ideological objection to the concept of marriage‘’. I can understand that. In my job, as a family solicitor I meet many couples who are wary of marriage and ‘’tying the knot’’, either as a result of a parent’s bitter divorce battle or because it is their second or third marriage, with all the complexities of step children and grandchildren or joining finances together. Most couples just accept that if they are in a heterosexual relationship the only available legal stamp to a relationship is that of marriage. Is that fair when a homosexual couple have the choice of civil partnership or marriage?
The Supreme Court has answered the question, with all five judges saying that the current civil partnership legislation isn’t compatible with human rights legislation. Put bluntly, you can’t treat couples differently based on their sexual orientation. It was that philosophy that eventually led to a change in the law to allow same sex couples to marry.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision being published the government had announced a long consultation process on the future of civil partnerships. The suggestion was that, after consultation, civil partnerships could be scrapped altogether, having fulfilled their purpose as the first legal stepping stone in the recognition of same sex relationships.
Why not extend civil partnerships so that they are available to all couples? Since 2014 heterosexual couples who don’t want to get married have said that they are discriminated against because, unlike homosexual couples, they don’t have the choice of entering into a civil partnership to legally recognise their relationship. What is so important about the legal recognition of a relationship? There are many, not just the perceived benefits for children of having a stamp of authority on their parent’s relationship but financial benefits, such as inheritance tax breaks.
The government has said that it will take a four year consultation process to be able to make an informed decision on whether to scrap civil partnerships for all couples or to extend them to heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court has said that is too long for the inequality to continue. Why not just extend civil partnerships to all adults, especially as the number of ceremonies has fallen to just under 900 a year? Well, there will then be calls that the availability of civil partnerships for all hits at the sanctity of marriage and furthermore will reduce marriage rates. The option of extending or scrapping civil partnerships is fraught with political difficulties but the Supreme Court is clear that consulting over the choices shouldn’t take as long as envisaged by government and politicians.
As a family solicitor, I am in the fortunate position of advising on family law options and then allowing individuals the time and space to decide on whether cohabitation, civil partnership or marriage is the right legal option for them and their family. Whatever the status of a relationship from a lawyer’s perspective the important thing is that the family is protected, that can be in the form of a cohabitation agreement, civil partnership agreement or a prenup agreement or will.
For advice on any aspect of family law please call +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at [email protected]