R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary)
The Supreme Court has ruled that banning heterosexual couples from entering into a Civil Partnership was incompatible with their human rights and amounted to discrimination. The ruling has been hugely welcomed, not only by different-sex couples who wish to enter into a Civil Partnership, but by family solicitors who have argued the existing law is discriminatory and the only alternative is to cohabitate, which at present, offers almost no legal protection around property or inheritance rights.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have been fighting for years to have the right to enter into a Civil Partnership, and the ruling handed down by the UK’s highest court will put pressure on the government to change the legislation which currently prevents heterosexual couples entering a Civil Partnership.
Ms Steinfield said:
“After four years and four equality ministers, we get there in the end. I’m frustrated that the government made us go through this at the cost of all this money.”
“We have fought this battle not only on our own behalf but for 3.3 million unmarried couples in England and Wales. Many want legal recognition and financial protection, but cannot have it because they’re not married and because the choice of a civil partnership is not open to them. The law needs to catch up with the reality of family life in Britain in 2018.”
Giving equal rights to same-sex and heterosexual couple
The denial of Civil Partnership to heterosexual couples is an anomaly, especially given that same-sex couples have had the right to enter a Civil Partnership since 2005 and marry since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in 2014.
There was an ideal opportunity to allow heterosexual couples to enter a Civil Partnership back in 2013, as the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passing through the House. However, the coalition government at the time, led by then Prime Minister, David Cameron, opposed the extension, fearing it could derail the passing of the same-sex marriage bill.
In early 2018, there was fears that the government would simply scrap Civil Partnerships for everyone; however, this is highly unlikely, given the uncertainty dissolving the legal ties that
unite 63,000 same-sex couples would cause.
The Supreme Court’s decision
Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan, sought judicial review of the government’s failure to extend civil partnerships to different sex couples, arguing that once the government legalised same-sex marriage, refusing to allow different-sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership was incompatible with human rights law, specifically article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), when read in conjunction with article 14.
In simple terms, article 8 protects the rights of people to have a private and family life. Article 14 declares that any rights and freedoms contained in the ECHR shall be secured without discrimination on any of several specified grounds (including sex, race or colour) and “other status”. It is accepted by the courts that sexual orientation qualifies as a ground on which discrimination under article 14 is forbidden. It was also accepted that Civil Partnerships fall within the ambit of article 8.
Given these factors, the country’s highest court stated that the government could not possibly bar heterosexual couples from entering into Civil Partnerships without discriminating against them.
Why heterosexual couples may wish to enter into a Civil Partnership
Whether it be for religious or social reasons, some people object to some of the principles associated with marriage. But at present, couples who choose to cohabitate have scant legal protection. Being able to enter into a Civil Partnership would provide heterosexual couples in a committed relationship who do not wish to marry, virtually the same rights as married couples.
And that is why the Supreme Court’s decision has been celebrated as a turning point in family law history in England and Wales and why Parliament must change the law to reflect it.
Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based opposite Marble Arch on the North side of Hyde Park in London. We can advise you on all matters relating to Civil Partnerships, and we are members of Resolution. For confidential information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.
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