Published: 1 March 2017
A heterosexual couple campaigning for a same-sex civil partnership have narrowly lost their fight in the Court of Appeal. This comes after they challenged a ruling that stated they were not able to form a civil partnership, based on the legal requirement of a civil partnership requiring that the couple are two people of the same sex. The judges involved in the case did suggest that there was a potential breach of their human rights and, in the verdict, it was suggested that the government needsmore time to decide the future of civil partnerships.
The London-based couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, stated that they intend to appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming that there was still ‘everything to fight for’.
BBC correspondent Clive Coleman, who specialises in legal affairs, said: ‘The government's “wait and see” policy, which is based on looking at the take-up of same-sex civil partnerships, was found by Lady Justice Arden not to be not good enough to address the discrimination faced by heterosexual couples. However, her fellow judges were prepared to let the government have a little more time and so the case was lost on that issue alone.’
In June 2016, British couple Kate Stewart and Matthew Cole decided to travel to the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar in order to seal their 10-year relationship with the civil partnership that they desired – despite it still not being legally recognised back in the UK.
Dr Stewart said: ‘Matthew and I didn't feel that marriage reflected our relationship. The institution [of marriage] is very much unequal depending on your religion.We therefore felt it wasn't a status we were comfortable with because it still had hangovers of inequality from the past.’
Despite not viewing the act of marriage as the right direction for their relationship to take, Dr Stewart did say that she believed marriage was right for some couples, but that it was more about having the choice that will suit specific individuals.
She continued: ‘We paid for the ceremony in pounds, we have a certificate, it was all very British, but as soon as we were back home we didn't have legal recognition. The declaration that we were both each other's partner was quite moving... we were on an equal footing. It was surprisingly touching.’
Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan are looking to secure legal recognition of the relationship that they have had for the last 7 years, but don’t believe that a marriage would be suitable for them. They stated that they want to formalise their relationship in a way ‘which is modern, which is symmetrical and that focuses on equality, which is exactly what a civil partnership is.’
Ms Steinfeld also said that they ‘lost on a technicality. So there's everything to fight for, and much in the ruling that gives us reason to be positive and keep going.’
Dan Squires, the QC for the secretary of state for education, who also has responsibility for equalities within government, said that it was decided that, at this moment in time, civil partnerships would not be extended to opposite-sex couples, but also that they would not be abolished. The government will be monitoring how the extension of marriage to same-sex couples will affect the civil partnership, before making a final decision.
Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner, supported the couple in court, and said that the eventual ruling was ‘a defeat for love and equality’. He continued to say that it ‘cannot be right that lesbian and gay couples have two options, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage.’
Same-Sex Marriage vs Civil Partnership
Conservative MP Tim Loughton said the government shouldn’t have any excuses for delaying a change to the law after a recently introduced Private Member’s Bill received cross-party backing. The Bill would see opposite-sex couples receive the right to a civil partnership, and it will be debated on 24th March 2017.
The Liberal Democrat spokesperson for equalities, Lorely Burt, said the ruling was a ‘slap in the face’ to heterosexual couples that are seeking a civil partnership.
In 2014, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was extended to allow same-sex couples the right to marry in England and Wales, giving couples the ability to choose between a civil partnership and a marriage. More than 72,000 people have now opted to sign an online petition that calls for civil partnerships to be open to everybody.
This ruling has had a hugely significant effect on the number of civil partnerships within England and Wales:in 2013 there were 5,646 civil partnerships and this figure fell by 85% over the next 2 years, with only 861 couples choosing a civil partnership rather than marriage in 2015.
The Isle of Man has allowed both gay and straight couples to enter a civil partnershipsinceJuly 2016 and is the only part of the British Isles to make such changes, however any civil partnerships registered in the Isle of Man are still unrecognised by the laws in England and Wales.
At K J Smith Solicitors, our team of family law specialists have many years of experience inissues relating to civil partnerships and traditional divorce. If you wish to discuss your circumstances to see how we can help, contact us today to arrange your free 45-minute consultationon 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) 01483 370100 (Guildford) or 01494 629000 (Beaconsfield).