Should heterosexual couples be able to form civil partnerships?

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The Court of Appeal ruled this week that the government’s stance on civil partnerships could continue, even though it might breach heterosexual couples’ human rights.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan launched an appeal after the High Court decided that denying civil partnerships to heterosexual couples was not a human rights infringement and so was a lawful policy.

The Court of Appeal said, however, that not allowing Steinfeld and Keidan a civil partnership was potentially discriminatory and infringed on their right to a family life.

Nevertheless, it decided to give the government enough breathing room to ‘wait and see’ until it could assess demand for same sex civil partnerships now that same sex couples have the right to marry. The couple have said they will fight the decision in the Supreme Court next.

Who can form a civil partnership?

As it stands, same-sex couples are entitled to get married or have a civil partnership, whereas a heterosexual couple may be married but can’t be civil partners.

Civil partnerships were created in 2004 by the previous government as a way for same-sex couples to enjoy the same legal privileges as married couples, whilst avoiding the contentious debate around the use of the word ‘marriage’.

There are, however, some important differences between the two.

What’s the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership?

  1. Civil partnerships cannot take place in a church.
  2. A marriage is considered to be complete when the couple exchange vows, but a civil partnership is completed by signing a form.
  3. A marriage certificate gives the name of each person’s father, whereas a civil partnership certificate gives both parents’ names.
  4. A married woman may be entitled to claim more of her husband’s pension if he dies than a woman in a civil partnership can claim if her partner dies.
  5. Adultery can be used as grounds for divorce, but not to end a civil partnership.
  6. Marriages may be annulled if one of the partners was suffering from a sexually transmitted infection at the time they were married. Civil partnerships can’t be annulled for this reason.

For some heterosexual couples, the religious and historical connotations of marriage and the exchanging of vows mean they would prefer a civil partnership – they argue it’s a more equal form of legal partnership between two people.

Whether you agree or disagree with this view, the fact is that same-sex couples have the right to a civil partnership or to marriage, but three million cohabiting heterosexual couples don’t.

The court ruled that this is potentially discriminatory and a possible breach of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan’s human rights, but didn’t go as far as to force the government to change the law – yet.

Further information

For more information on civil partnerships or to speak to a solicitor specialising in family law, call us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.


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