Heterosexual Civil Partnerships: a missing provision?

In the UK same-sex couples now have the option to enter into either a civil partnership or marriage. This is in contrast to heterosexual couples, who can currently only enter into a marriage. Many people see this as unfair.  For some heterosexual couples a civil partnership would offer a formal, legal tie, but without the constraints of a centuries old tradition and the associated gender and cultural stereotypes of marriage but this is not open to them.

Prior to 2004, same-sex couples were denied many of the housing, social security, succession and other rights commonly enjoyed by their opposite-sex counterparts. Following the Civil Partnership Act 2004, a degree of parity was afforded same-sex couples who could at that time not marry, but could enter into a civil partnership. The purpose of the Act was clear in its resolve to remedy this inequality and not to extend the provision to all. Following the enactment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 same-sex couples could then enter into either marriage or civil partnership.

In 2016, Tim Loughton MP proposed the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill, arguing that it was a “glaring inequality” that civil partnerships were not available to opposite-sex couples. Tim Loughton was a notable opponent of same-sex marriage, and described people as having “complex motives” for same sex couples wishing to have their relationships recognized by a civil partnership.

During debates on the amendment, The Government cited a 2014 consultation which found 76% of respondents were opposed to extending the scope of civil partnerships to include opposite-sex couples.

In a recent court case, a heterosexual couple has been unsuccessful in challenging their rights to enter into a civil partnership. Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan say they are discriminated against as they do not have the same choices as gay couples and that the current law is incompatible with their rights to private and family life. The court ruled that opposite sex couples are not disadvantaged because they can achieve the same recognition of their relationship, and the same rights, benefits and protections by getting married.

The second reading debate on the Civil Partnership Bill was adjourned and will resume on 24 March 2017 for further debate. However, working from the premise that there should be parity between heterosexual and same-sex couples, rather than extending the scope of civil partnerships to include heterosexual couples, another possibility which we feel may be looked at in the future would be to completely abolish civil partnerships altogether, thereby meaning that both heterosexual and same-sex couples can simply marry. Had same-sex couples simply been given the right to marry back in 2004 rather than 2013 it seems to us unlikely that civil partnerships would ever have been introduced at all.

Paul Lancaster

Paul Lancaster

Paul Lancaster
Family Law Team
0113 227 9215

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