Theresa May, the Prime Minister has announced today that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will soon have the choice of a Civil Partnership stating that by “extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be the same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life”.
This will provide a significant change for heterosexual couples who previously, would only be able to marry providing them with legal protection. There are estimated to be at least 3.3 million unmarried couple families currently living together in the UK. The introduction of a civil partnership will offer couples the opportunity to make a personal choice and commit to either a civil partnership or a marriage, offering them more legal protection than they have as a cohabiting couple. The government’s proposals are therefore intended to provide greater security for unmarried couples and their families.
The move puts an end to the ‘blatant inequality’ that was identified by the Supreme Court in June this year where Miss Steinfeld and Mr Keidan won their legal bid when the Judge found that the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. Miss Steinfield and Mr Keidan wanted a civil partnership and the non-availability of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was said to be a breach of human rights law. It is likely that this significant change has been announced now in response to this decision.
However, from a legal perspective there is no current difference between the financial claims that are available on either the breakdown of a civil partnership or a marriage and therefore deciding between the two is really a matter of personal preference. Martin Loat, chair of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign group hailed the announcement an “important step forward” and we look forward to a firm date for the reform being set.
This decision will however not change anything about the legal rights of couples who simply cohabit but do not marry and do not have a civil partnership. Reform of that area of law remains long overdue.