News | July 2, 2018

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allowed for same-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership, which was said to be for the purpose of enabling them “to obtain legal recognition of their relationship …”.

Part 1 (1) of the above Act states that “A civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex (“civil partners”)…” and Part 2 (3) deals with eligibility and one of the criteria is stated as (1)Two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if—(a)they are not of the same sex”.  Therefore, it was clear that two people of the opposite sex were not permitted to form a civil partnership.

 A couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, recently (on 27 June 2018) won their case at the Supreme Court (following being given permission  to appeal by the Court of Appeal in February 2017). The basis of their case was that they did not want to marry (they, in part, saw it as a patriarchal institution) but instead wanted to  form a civil partnership and they were not permitted to do so since they were of the opposite sex.

The Supreme Court held that the fact that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 does not extend to couples of the opposite sex is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Lord Kerr indicated that the Government had not sought to explain the differing treatment of those couples of the opposite sex, who are only permitted to marry, and those of the same sex, who are permitted to marry or form a civil partnership (the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force (in October of that year) extending marriage to same sex couples), and said that indeed,  “to the contrary, it accepts that the difference cannot be justified”.

The ball is now in the Government’s Court as to whether, in light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the legislation will be changed to extend civil partnerships to couples of the opposite sex.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill (explained as “A Bill to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to provide that opposite sex couples may enter a civil partnership; and for connected purposes”) had been drafted previously but this only got as far as a second reading in the House of Lords back in January 2017, with the debate adjourned until May 2017 (post that time however it was said that “However, as a General Election has now been called and Parliament will be dissolved from 3 May 2017, the Bill falls and no further action will be taken”), which meant that the draft Bill came to a standstill.  Given recent events, I anticipate that this may now be back on the Government’s agenda.