Published: 12 February 2016
On 13th January 2016, campaigners, MPs and family lawyers hosted a discussion panel to explore the possibility of extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.
The discussion was instigated by MP Tim Loughton, the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign and unmarried couple Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, who began judicial review proceedings alongside an online petition they had created called 'Open Civil Partnerships for All', which already has some 38,000 signatures.
Tory MP and former Children's Minister Tim Loughton plans to introduce a new private members' bill - the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill - which is due for a second reading in the House of Commons and will propose changes to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the term 'same-sex' from current legislation, making civil partnerships available to heterosexual couples for the first time.
As Mr Loughton explained, ‘Opposite-sex couples who do not want to go down the formal marriage route are completely unrecognised in the eyes of the state. With 3 million cohabiting opposite-sex couples in the UK, and 40% of them having children, this is a large body of people and they have few protections if things go wrong, let alone tax advantages rightly now available to same-sex couples who can choose between marriage and civil partnership.’
He also drew attention to the fact that many cohabiting couples in the UK believe they are protected by ‘common law’ marriage – which does not formally exist. As he argued: ‘At a time when we want to do everything to encourage family stability particularly to help foster strong childhoods it is absurd that the state has no way of recognising and celebrating these relationships. It is high time we recognised equal civil partnerships to give greater security to millions of our citizens’.
The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 states that only same-sex couples are allowed to enter into a civil partnership, making heterosexual couples ineligible for the status. It was first introduced to offer same-sex couples similar protection and legal rightsto married heterosexual couples before same-sex marriages were introduced on 29th March 2014.
Same-sex couples that were in a civil partnership were granted the ability to convert their civil partnership into a same-sex marriage on 10th December 2014, giving same-sex couples a slight legal advantage over heterosexual couples as they have the option of a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage, as opposed to heterosexual couples who only have the option of traditional marriage.
Campaigners Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld challenged the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships in a two day hearing on the 19th January 2016, which was rejected by the High Court. In her explanation for this decision, Mrs Justice Andrews stated: ‘Just as the UK was under no obligation to extend marriage to same-sex couples, it has never been under an obligation to extend civil partnership to heterosexual couples. There was no such obligation when the CPA was enacted and, in my judgment the 2013 Act has made no difference.’
The couple have since started a crowd funding campaign to raise the funds to launch an appeal. Although the judicial review was unsuccessful, the couple’s case has drawn more media attention to the campaign, which some think might heap more pressure on Parliament to amend current legislation and extended civil partnerships to heterosexual couples in the future. Following the High Court verdict on the couple’s case, the second reading of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill has been re-scheduled and is now due to take place on 11th March 2016.
At K J Smith Solicitors, our team of family law specialists have many years of experience in dealing with all issues 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 consultation on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 020 7070 0330 (London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor), 01256 584000 (Basingstoke) or 01483 370100 (Guildford).