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Heterosexual couple win right to civil partnership at Supreme Court

Yesterday the Supreme Court found that a couple’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have been breached by not allowing them to enter into a civil partnership.

Same sex couples currently have a choice in how they formalise their relationships. Under the Marriage (Same Sex couples) Act 2013 (MSSCA), same sex couples can get married. They can also enter into a civil partnership under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 (CPA). The latter is not available to different sex couples. Heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have argued that this is discriminatory.

Rebecca and Charles have a long term relationship and two children. They want to formalise their relationship, but not with marriage, which they see as historically patriarchal. They say they have an equal relationship and that they want to raise their children ‘as equal partners’ and feel that a civil partnership sets the best example of this.

They launched a legal challenge to what they saw as the inequality of the CPA in 2014, after already trying, and failing, to hold a ceremony in Chelsea Town Hall and being turned away. The challenge was heard in the High Court in 2016 and it challenge failed. It failed again in the Court of Appeal in 2017, but the couple were given permission to take their appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court judges unanimously supported Rebecca and Charles and said that the government should have eliminated the inequality caused by the CPA by abolishing it when the MSSCA came into force in 2013, or extended the CPA to apply to different sex couples immediately.

civil partnershipWhilst the judgment does not mean the government is obliged to change the law, it is hoped that it will be more encouraged to do so.

Don Bird, senior partner and head of Atherton Godfrey’s family law team says: “This is a significant step forward for those who have long argued that the inability of couples of the opposite sex to enter into a civil partnership was an unfair anomaly, creating injustice in the system.  It is pleasing to see that the Supreme Court agree and we hope that the government will now act quickly to remedy this.”

Click to read the full judgment of the Supreme Court.