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Success for the Equal Civil Partnership Campaign

July 17th, 2018

The law on marriage was once traditionally for heterosexual couples. However, both the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 have changed the way in which homosexual couples can legalise their relationships. Since 2004, homosexual couples have been able to enter into a civil partnership, giving them access to legal protection that used to only be available in marriage, such as rights to inheritance. Likewise, since 2013 homosexual couples have also been able to marry. Homosexual couples therefore have a choice as to whether to marry or enter into a civil partnership. This choice is not available to heterosexual couples, who can only legalise their relationship through marriage.

Both the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 appeared to have broken the boundaries of discrimination for homosexual couples and both acts- particularly the 2013 act- were seen as a victory that was celebrated by many people around the world, of all types of sexual orientation. However, it shortly became obvious that heterosexual couples were at a disadvantage- with only one option available, marriage. This aspect of the law was recently brought to the attention of the Supreme Court judges by the cohabiting couple Charles Keiden and Rebecca Steinfield, who wanted to legalise their relationship by way of a civil partnership. In a ground-breaking decision, the Supreme Court unanimously held in their favour, citing that the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships in the UK is discriminatory. The Judgment changes the law, but for it to be put into practice, it will be necessary for the statutory law to also reflect the decision of the Supreme Court. It is therefore expected that the Government will propose a bill implementing the Supreme Court decision, for it to be approved by the Houses of Parliament in the near future.

Since homosexual couples can marry, it now begs the question whether to rid civil partnership altogether. Parliament has stated that it is unnecessary to legalise civil partnerships, since the purpose of the Civil Partnership Act was solely to legalise homosexual relationships and now since there is homosexual marriage, civil partnerships have lost their purpose. In 2016, only 890 civil partnerships were registered, compared to an average of 6,305 each year between 2007 and 2013. However, Keiden and Steinfield argued that ridding civil partnership altogether will then leave those who remain in civil partnerships living in a union that has been made void. Likewise, it leaves no choice for the 3.3 million unmarried couples who live together with no option other than to marry.

Civil partnerships offer a union free of patriarchy and religious connotations and represents a modern 2018 society that we live in, as argued by Steinfield and Keiden. Therefore, some heterosexual couples do not want to be part of the traditional institution of marriage and want a simple legalisation of their relationship without the ‘patriarchal baggage’. This view is supported by the 132,000 people who have signed a petition for the law to be changed. Connotations including the ‘vow of obedience’ and where couples have been pronounced to be ‘man and wife’ instead of ‘husband and wife’ are quoted as reasons for opting into a civil partnership, rather than a marriage. Likewise, some argue that marriage supports gender roles, whereby the male is the breadwinner and the woman is the homemaker, a description that no longer represents the majority of young adults in today’s society

Overall, after persuading England’s most senior Justices to rule that the current law on civil partnership is discriminatory, all that is left for Keiden, Steinfield and their supporters to do is to now also persuade Parliament to formally change the Civil Partnership Act 2004 so as to allow for civil partnerships between heterosexual couples. Rather than ridding civil partnership altogether, lifting the ban on heterosexual civil partnership is better suited for all couples, as it gives heterosexuals an alternative in legalising their relationship if they feel that marriage is not an option for them.

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