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Heterosexual couple seek civil partnership rights

Some European countries already allow heterosexual couples to form a civil partnership

20 January 2016

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A heterosexual couple have taken a civil action to the High Court to gain the right to enter into a civil partnership.

Charles Keidan, 39, and Rebecca Steinfield, 34, contest that a heterosexual couple's inability to form a civil partnership amounts to a breach of article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that national legislation should not discriminate on the grounds of sex.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 does not provide for heterosexual couples as it was designed to give legal recognition to a homosexual couple's relationship, and was introduced before same-sex marriage became law in England and Wales.

It was deemed unnecessary to allow heterosexual couples to form a civil partnership as they can enter into a marriage, which is legally binding.

Rebecca Harling, a family law solicitor at Thomas Eggar, believes that this potentially creates a technical point of discrimination.

'I believe that Mr Keidan and Ms Steinfeld technically have a point: why should same sex couples have the right to be married or enter into civil partnership whereas if heterosexual couples wish to formalise their legal union they only have the option of marriage?

'It is true that the equivalent unions exist in many European countries including France and Holland, but they are civil law jurisdictions and entirely different to England and Wales.'

Towards the end of 2015, a private members bill was introduced to Parliament which sought to amend the Civil Partnership Act, so that heterosexual couples can also form civil partnerships.

The bill is scheduled to have its second reading on 29 January 2016.

However Rebecca Harling feels that the UK is unlikely to allow heterosexual couples to enter civil partnerships as it may open a 'huge legal can of worms'.

'To allow heterosexual couples the option of entering into civil partnerships is unlikely to become law in this jurisdiction mainly for public policy reasons.

'It would mean opening a huge legal can of worms which would impact on the whole of the, already over-burdened, family justice system,' she said.

A poor relation

Meanwhile, Fiona Turner, a partner in the family team at Weightmans, has pointed out that civil partnerships do not offer as many rights and protections as marriage.

‘Few foresaw a situation where civil partnerships would be viewed as the preferable option by heterosexual couples.

‘In a legal sense, it is seen as a poor relation with some key differences between the legal regimes as well as differences in the formalities of celebrating the union.

‘For example, it is easier to dissolve a same-sex marriage than a civil partnership. Adultery can be cited as grounds for a divorce, ending a marriage; it is not something that can be relied on to end a civil partnership.’

However, as Turner also correctly says, Keidan and Steinfield would prefer to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage as they consider it to be ‘patriarchal’, and do not want to associate themselves with the history of the institution of marriage.

Should they succeed in their case, it would leave the future of civil partnerships in an ‘uncertain’ position, adds Turner. 

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