McHale & Co. Solicitors Blog

What is the significance of the Civil Partnership Ruling?

On 21st February, the Court of Appeal rejected the application of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan to enter into a civil partnership, by a narrow majority of two to one.

One might ask why the couple needed civil partnership in the first place, if marriage is available to them and carries near identical legal protections and status? Steinfeld and Keidan sought to close the anomaly whereby same-sex couples may enter either a marriage or civil partnership, yet mixed-sex couples may only choose marriage. The couple reject what they consider the ‘sexist’ and ‘patriarchal’ institution of marriage. They are said to represent thousands of couples who wish for an alternative to the trappings of traditional marriage.

In creating civil partnerships in 2004, the Labour government unwittingly created what campaigner and journalist Fiona Millar describes as ‘a new, positive institution with a history, life and future of its own’. The couple believe that many of the 3 million mixed-sex couples cohabiting in this country may wish to benefit from the legal protections and status offered by civil partnership. A Change.org petition calling for civil partnerships to be open to all has now attracted over 72,000 signatures.

All of the Court of Appeal judges accepted the point of law raised by the couple. The judges agreed that unequal access to civil partnerships violates Article 14 (protection from discrimination) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However where the judges disagreed was on how much time the government has to remedy the breach. Lord Justice Briggs and Lord Justice Beatson ruled that the government should have more time to remedy the breaches via legislation. They considered that the government now has a short window to consider the extension of civil partnerships to all, in order to keep in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. Lady Justice Arden, giving the minority judgement, considered the government has already run out of time.

So what is the next step in the civil partnership saga? Steinfeld and Keidan have taken some encouragement from the court’s finding, and the pressure it puts on the government to take action. If government does not extend civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples, the couple are looking to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Keep your eyes peeled for the next movement on this contentious issue!

Categories: Divorce & Family Law

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