When civil partnerships were introduced into English law back in 2004, they were a great idea. Gay couples wanted legal recognition for their relationships but they could not get married. So this particular innovation took us a little further along the road to equality. However, the introduction of gay marriage in 2013 did not make things equal. In fact, it has tilted the scales in the other direction.
Now, same sex couples can choose to get married or have a civil partnership if they want legal recognition for their relationships. Straight couples, on the other hand, can only choose marriage.
This apparent inequality raised eyebrows even amongst gay rights campaigners like Peter Tatchell.
This morning, the High Court rejected Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan’s bid to have the law reviewed. They see conventional marriage as “sexist” and had tried to enter a civil partnership in 2014, but were told they were not eligible for the very simple reason that they were straight.
Unhappy, the couple took to the courts, claiming that the Civil Partnership Act discriminated against heterosexual couples and violated their right to a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, Mrs Justice Andrews was unconvinced. She ruled that straight couples “are not disadvantaged” by the law “because they can achieve exactly the same recognition of their relationship and the same rights, benefits and protections by getting married, as they always could”.
Personally I find the government’s reluctance to move on this issue puzzling. Really – why can’t they just open civil partnerships up to everyone? This decision will obviously be challenged as many times as it takes before the law is expanded. I would not be surprised if this case made it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
Granting heterosexual couples the right to enter a civil partnership would do a lot of good and not just for couples like the one in this case who simply object to the traditions associated with marriage. Religious marriages could be helped too.
Every religious denomination has its own form of marriage, but not all of them are recognised by the law. For those which aren’t, couples must go through two ceremonies: a religious one and a civil one. Aside from this being very inefficient, you could argue that the civil wedding undermines the importance of the religious one. The law as it stands essentially tells those people that their marriage doesn’t count.
What about those who want a religious ceremony abroad? They also have to go through two wedding ceremonies: one civil ceremony at home and then one in their destination of choice.
Surely allowing straight couples to enter a civil partnership would be the ideal solution? Unlike marriage, it is more of a declaration than a promise. Therefore, as it is not officially a marriage it would not detract from the importance and significance of their religious ceremony. It would, however, confer upon the couple all the legal rights of a marriage. It’s a win-win.
There are many couples, gay and straight, who do not want to marry but do want some form of legal recognition of their relationship. Whether it’s for ideological reasons or simply an objection to two weddings, a civil partnership is the perfect option.
Read the High Court decision in full here.