Heterosexual Civil Partnerships: different packaging, same content.
At the Conservative party conference on 2 October 2018, Theresa May announced a change in legislation to allow heterosexual couples in England and Wales to enter into civil partnerships.
This follows the decision in Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State June 2018, where the Supreme Court declared that sections 1 and 3 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, to the extent that they preclude heterosexual couples from entering into civil partnerships.
Heterosexual couples have always been able to marry, and seemed happy to use that right when they wanted to formalise their relationship.
Same-sex couples were only allowed to marry in 2014. Before 2005 they had no way of forming a legally recognised relationship, but from 2005 they were allowed ‘civil partnerships’ which give them the same legal rights and protections as marriage, without actually being able to marry.
Once same-sex couples were given the right to marry in 2014, the law was left in the odd situation that same-sex couples had two means of recognising their partnerships (civil partnerships and marriage) whereas opposite-sex couples could only marry. This was an unintended consequence of the gradual route to allowing same-sex marriage, rather than any wish to give same-sex couples more options than heterosexual couples.
In 2014, it would have been open to the government to abolish civil partnerships altogether or permit everyone to enter into them. Instead, a “wait and see” approach was adopted.
Same sex marriages are now far more common than civil partnerships, which have very much fallen out of favour. Same sex couples on the whole wanted the right to marry, in parity, rather than a separate form of legal relationship.
Ironically, some of the heterosexual community then felt this unfair. Marriage was considered to have strong religious connotations, even now that weddings can be celebrated in many locations other than churches. Civil partnership was, they said, preferable to those who had strong feelings against marriage as such, and should be available to them.
Had Government simply abolished civil partnerships generally, once same-sex couples could marry, the issue would not have arisen. It didn’t, and now the same options will, eventually, be available.
BUT: what difference does it actually make, once you are in either a marriage or a civil partnership? In practice, almost none whatsoever. The law has applied the same rights and responsibilities in both relationships, and the financial remedies available on the breakdown of those relationships are substantially the same. Different packaging, same content.
Article provided by Ian Downing, partner and family solicitor at GA Solicitors.