Civil Partnerships – A Step in the Right Direction?

Kerry Smith
Kerry Smith
Head of Family Law
at K J Smith

In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling in June, heterosexual couples will now be given the chance to form civil partnerships.

The new legislation, which follows the tireless campaign efforts of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, aims to address a deep-rooted and long-standing imbalance in the law.

Steinfeld and Keidan were successful in their recent campaign for civil partnerships to be opened up to heterosexual couples, stating that it was a “major step forward”.

Theresa May announced earlier this month that all couples in England and Wales will have the legal rights to enter into a civil partnership whilst the Scottish government continue to take steps in the right direction.

Created in 2004, civil partnerships have previously been an exclusive unification ceremony restricted to same-sex couples only, however in light of recent events, this is set to change.

Since the legalisation of same sex marriage under the 2014 Act, homosexual couples have had the ability to choose between two different options that both formalise a relationship whilst giving both parties the ability to acquire rights similar to those held by married couples.

It is since these changes to the law in 2014 that an increasing number of people have started to campaign in the hope to equalise the imbalance of traditional heterosexual partnership ceremonies.

The court also issued a statement on the matter, declaring that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

There are numerous reasons as to why heterosexual couples would prefer to enter into a civil partnership rather than marriage, the overriding reason being that marriage is seen as outdated and patriarchal.

Unlike marriage which has deep-rooted historical, religious and gendered connotations, civil partnerships offer couples the ability to form a relationship based on their own values and culture.

Despite social advancements and changes in attitudes that promote gender equality, marriage still continues to treat women as property and as a result people are seeking alternatives that are more reflective of modern society.

Families are also trying to set an example for future generations by raising children as equals and entering into a civil partnership which places importance on equality and symmetry is the best way of achieving this for many.

Furthermore, opting for a civil partnership will give cohabitating couples the legal rights and protection they would otherwise not be entitled to, without having to embark on the traditional route of marriage.

Many cohabiting couples believe that they are protected under ‘common law marriage’, however unmarried cohabiting couples have no protection or rights to their partners assets and this only accentuates the stresses when an individual finds out during separation proceedings or due to the death of their partner.

The civil partnership reform, which was pioneered by “accidental campaigners” Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, gained an enormous amount of support during the 4 year process with more than 130,000 signatures for an online petition.

Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt has promised that change to civil partnership laws will happen “as swiftly as possible”, with the legislation set to be introduced in April 2019.

Despite the positive steps that are being taken to equalise partnership ceremonies, there still remains a gap in the law regarding cohabiting couples that don’t want to enter into a civil partnership or marriage and their legal protection.

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Kerry Smith is the head of family law at K J Smith Solicitors, a specialist family law firm who deal with a wide range of issues including divorce, domestic violence, civil partnerships and prenuptial agreements.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

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