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Louisa Gothard
Louisa Gothard
Senior Solicitor, Head of Family Law
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Civil Partnerships for Heterosexual Couples
Date:29 AUG 2019

 

Civil Partnerships vs Marriage

Civil Partnerships award essentially the same rights to couples as Marriage does. There are a few notable differences between Civil Partnerships and Marriage:

  • Civil Partnerships cannot be formed in a religious ceremony on a religious premise,
  • Marriage is formed by vows; Civil Partnerships are formed by signing of the Civil Partnership document,
  • Only the father’s name features on the marriage certificate where as both parent’s names appear on the civil partnership document,
  • Marriages are ended by divorce and Civil Partnerships by dissolution although the procedure is fundamentally the same,
  • A Civil Partnership is not voidable on the basis of non-consummation (nor does it make a same sex marriage voidable)
  • Adultery is only a ground for dissolution (or divorce) if it is committed with a person of the opposite sex

Development of the Law

Civil partnerships were introduced in the Civil Partnership Act 2004 as a way for same sex couples to have their relationships legally recognised. This was a welcome development for same sex couples who previously could not benefit from any of the rights that are awarded to opposite sex couples on marriage.

Until the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 the institutions of marriage and civil partnerships ran parallel to one another. The Government concluded in its original consultation paper on equal marriage that civil partnerships should be retained only for same sex couples. This created an unusual situation where same sex couples with the choice of marriage or civil partnership, but restricting heterosexuals to marriage alone. We were only country in Europe with more statuses available for same sex then opposite.

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This led to calls for civil partnerships to be made available for opposite sex couples. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport indicated that 20% of the unmarried heterosexual respondents to the consultation would rather form a civil partnership than marry, which is a significant percentage.

Steinfeld and Keidan were an opposite sex couple who felt that the bar on opposite sex civil partnerships were discriminatory. They felt that for those for ‘whom marriage is simply not an available alternative’ due to their fundamental disagreement with its patriarchal origins, they have no way of obtaining state recognition for their relationship.

They challenged the law on the basis that it was discriminatory under article 8 ECHR (right to family life) when considered alongside article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court and in June 2018, the judges unanimously agreed that the ban was in fact discriminatory. The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 changed the law and allowed opposite sex couples to have Civil Partnerships.

Where next?

Conservative MP Sir Edwin Leigh has said 'Mixed-sex civil partnerships to be legalised. Why not for siblings too?' He said this due to concerns for siblings who have chosen to live with one another all their lives but cannot benefit from the same tax breaks as couples whose relationships are legally recognised. Others, are concerned about this prospect and feel that the floodgates have now been opened. However, the Government has no intentions to further extend Civil Partnerships and it appears that, for now, the law relating to the formation of Marriages and Civil Partnerships will stay as it is.

This article was first published by Anthony Gold Solicitors and is reproduced with permission.

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