On 27th June, the Supreme Court upheld the challenge of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan to the law relating to Civil Partnerships.
Rebecca and Charles successfully argued that the availability of civil partnerships to same-sex couples rather than mixed sex couples is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
At present, same-sex couples have the option of both civil partnerships and marriage, whereas mixed sex couples are only permitted to marry. Rebecca and Charles feel that there remain cultural echoes of male control over the bride. Although the modern marriage ceremony is adaptable to our times so that this can be minimised, for some this remains unacceptable to the extent that they choose cohabitation over marriage for want of an acceptable alternative.
Why does it matter?
There is research suggesting that statistically, legal recognition of a relationship tends to make it more stable with consequent benefits for any children of that relationship. Therefore, so the argument goes, the more options available to create stable relationships the better. This reasoning underpinned the case advanced by Rebecca and Charles and the decision of the court.
On the other hand, for some couples the legal certificate, whether it be for a marriage or civil partnership, will still only be ‘a piece of paper’. The true implications of cohabitation (for example in relation to financial issues) are often only felt on separation or death where a cohabitee’s rights are limited compared to their married/civil partnered counterparts.
For some (presently 3.5 million and counting in the UK), that is a price worth paying to have the freedom to live together in a relationship with as few legal implications as possible.
So, can a mixed sex couple form a civil partnership now?
Not yet. The decision of the Supreme Court does not represent a change in the law. It is a clear message to the government to enact change to permit true choice as to the form of marriage and civil partnership for all sections of society.
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