Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld have challenged the Civil Partnership Act 2004 which states that “two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if… they are not of the same sex“. Charles and Rebecca did not want to get “married” but there was no other option, and they believed this was discrimination. They have since been campaigning for the option of an opposite-sex civil partnership, and their challenge is being heard in the High Court this week. The final day of the hearing is today, although the presiding Judge will not be handing down a judgment for at least a week.
When Civil Partnerships came into law in 2005, it was seen as a step towards equality between opposite-sex and same-sex couples. This changed further with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which allowed same-sex couples to marry. However, there are some opposite-sex couples who do not believe in marriage but still want to cement their relationship. When looking at the effect of a Civil Partnership, it would seem to offer just that but not if you are of the opposite sex. Rebecca and Charles believe this is wrong.
The benefit of entering a marriage, or civil partnership, is that it helps with legal matters such as ownership of assets, rights of inheritance, rights of parentage, and tax benefits assigned to married couples, and there is a general level of stability. If an opposite-sex couple do not want to get married, there is no other option for them as the concept of a “Common Law Marriage” does not exist. With almost 3 million opposite-sex couples cohabiting in the UK today, and 40% of those having children, this is an issue which should be addressed.
Rebecca reported on the change.org site that the Judge “mentioned on several occasions how important she thinks the case is and that she will take the time needed to consider the arguments.” There have also been several MPs lending their support, suggesting this issue is being taken seriously.
If the Judge decides that Civil Partnerships should be made available to opposite-sex couples this could change the face of “marriage” as we once knew it. Marriage today is based on a foundation of religion and social tradition, whereas Civil Partnership could be seen as a modern, practical way of formalising a long-term relationship to ensure both parties are protected in law and are able to strengthen their bond without tying it into religion.
My own view is that I don’t see marriage as a patriarchal system. It existed long before religion and would have been a social ritual (in some form) before the people of this country were invaded by the Normans and the Romans. No doubt our invaders would have taken our traditions and wedged their belief system into them to help us acclimatise with their way of life. Time has passed, other traditions such as a white dress and a diamond ring have been introduced, and marriage has become what it is today. One does not even have to have a wedding in a Church; it can be in a small registry office with two witnesses or in a grand hotel out in the countryside. However, I do think that if we are to be an equal society then we must be truly equal. If same-sex couples can have a Civil Partnership, then why can’t opposite-sex couples?
Written by Victoria Clarke, Solicitor in our Family Law Department.