Civil partnerships should be available to all

Family Law|January 29th 2016

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.

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(6)

  1. Andrew says:

    “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.”
    .
    Wrong. Any religious marriage can be recognised if the authorities of the building concerned jump through certain one-off hoops, not very onerous or expensive, and have it registered for the celebration of marriages. Then in due course one of their people can become, effectively, the Registrar and no civil registrar need attend. Prior notice must be given to the Registrar, and a good thing too; and the marriage must be registered with the Registrar afterwards, and another good thing too; and the marriage must be lawful within English law (not within the English prohibited degrees and not polygamous, which would amount to bigamy), and that’s another good thing too.
    .
    Unfortunately many mosques are not registered and are carrying out unlawful and ineffective ceremonies. That’s the problem.
    .
    .

    “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.”
    .
    And in English law it does not and should not – it is the civil marriage that has legal effect, and people having both should be left in no doubt about that.
    .
    .
    “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.”
    .
    Wrong again. If you are domiciled in England and are free – in terms of English law – to marry here you can marry abroad by any ceremony which is lawful there. You may have to persuade English officialdom that your certificate is valid, and you may have to get it translated, but that is true of every foreign birth or death or divorce certificate with which English officialdom is not familiar.
    .
    There may be excellent reasons for allowing opposite-sex civil partnerships but the passages I have quoted from what you say are not among them!

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Andrew
      You are totally wrong. There are religious marriages which take place in this country which are not recognised as valid for the purposes of English law. Did you notice the Crown Prince of Greece at a registry office after his church wedding solemnised in the presence of the Queen?
      As for Europe a civil wedding is required and a religious one if the parties want. It might be possible to do both at once but experience suggests to me that two are usually performed. Thus George and Amal Clooney had two wedding ceremonies. If a couple have to go through a state ceremony in this country there is no reason why it should not be a civil partnership so the “marriage” only takes place once, under the auspices of the religion of their choice.
      Regards
      Marilyn

      • Andrew says:

        No, you are totally wrong, except where you agree with me!
        .
        “There are religious marriages which take place in this country which are not recognised as valid for the purposes of English law.” Yes, I said that; most of them are in mosques and it is a serious social issue that nobody is willing to takcle.
        .
        “Did you notice the Crown Prince of Greece at a registry office after his church wedding solemnised in the presence of the Queen?” I wasn’t at either event but yes, some weddings take place at churches which are not registered or the chapels of the Oxbridge colleges where you can only get married by Archbishop’s licence. Then there has to be a separate civil marriage.
        .
        “As for Europe a civil wedding is required and a religious one if the parties want. It might be possible to do both at once but experience suggests to me that two are usually performed. Thus George and Amal Clooney had two wedding ceremonies.” Europe is a big place! In France you can only be legally married by M or Mme le Maire (and yes, she is le Maire even if she is female, don’t blame me!) but in Malta you can only be legally married religiously. In Germany I think the position is similar to here where the cleric and also be the legal celebrant. In any case comparison with Europe is unhelpful; the law of marriage is different even within the three UK jurisdictions. And in some countries for example you can and in others you cannot marry your first cousin.
        .
        Which brings us back to c.p. where there is still less of a real European consensus. I have to agree with Luke that this is not an important matter.

        • Marilyn Stowe says:

          Dear Andrew
          It is quite clear from what you write that you are now agreeing with me..that there are indeed circumstances here and abroad where two marriages are required.
          My view is that two “marriages” in principle is wrong, a CP would right that wrong.
          Regards
          Marilyn

          • Andrew says:

            No, it would not. The people who have two ceremonies normally want a religious marriage and a c.p. can’t replace that.
            .

  2. Luke says:

    I think stopping civil partnerships for non-same sex couples (I hesitate to use the word ‘straight’ to save some pedant protesting that they are part of a ‘gender-fluid’ couple or some such stuff) makes no sense and Mrs Justice Andrews is quite clearly wrong – but frankly I regard this as such a trivial first-world issue that I am trying and failing to give a f___ 🙂

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