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Happily unmarried

The first mixed-sex civil partnership ceremony in Britain took place on New Year’s Eve 2019, marking a new era for cohabiting heterosexual couples and the conclusion of a five-year legal battle, as Head of Lodders’ Family Law team, Beverley Morris, explains.

For a considerable period of time, same-sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships by virtue of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA), and marriage, by virtue of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.

Essentially the Act awarded the same rights to cohabiting same-sex couples as marriage does.

In its original consultation paper on equal marriage, the government concluded that civil partnerships should be retained only for same-sex couples. This development of the law did not offer the same opportunities or choices to opposite sex cohabiting couples.

Discriminatory

Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan are an opposite sex couple. They felt that the bar on a civil partnership being available to their union was discriminatory, and they fundamentally disagreed with the patriarchal origins of marriage and wanted a way of recognising their relationship, but not by way of marriage.

They launched legal proceedings which in June 2018 culminated in The Supreme Court, when the couple declared the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights as the Act only applied to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court judges ruled in favour of Ms Steinfield and Mr Keidan and their ‘conscientious objections to marriage’, and agreed that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legislative change

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Theresa May’s government moved quickly to back legislative change. The then Prime Minister announced on 2 October 2018 that they would change the law to allow opposite sex couples in England and Wales to enter into a civil partnership.  Tim Loughton MP amended his Bill “The Civil Partnerships marriages and deaths (Registration etc.) Bill” to require the Secretary of State to make regulations extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.  The Bill received Royal Assent on 26 March 2019 and civil partnerships are now available to same sex couples.

Five years after being refused permission to give notice of a heterosexual civil partnership, and a lengthy legal battle, Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan finally became civil partners on 31 December 2019. Such a union is now open to the majority of the UK’s 3.3 million co-habiting heterosexual couples.

The make-up of the family is ever changing, and legislation must keep pace with these changes.  Many family practitioners argue that the Government should have put in place legislation long before Ms Steinfield and Mr Keidan launched their court proceedings.

The fastest growing family type is that of cohabiting families with the number in the UK more than doubling over 20 years to around 3.4 million.  We lag behind other countries in the recognition of the need for legislative change – for example in the Netherlands mixed sex civil partnerships were introduced back in 1998.

On celebrating their civil partnership Ms Steinfeld said their personal wish for a civil partnership came from “a desire to formalise our relationship in a more modern way, with a focus on equality and mutual respect”.

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Get in touch...

For more information about family law and civil partnerships, contact Beverley Morris on 0121 200 0890, or via email.