News & Insights

Will you not marry me?

Hannah Sims, solicitor in the Family department, considers the Supreme Court decision on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 in the UK providing same-sex couples similar legal rights to those enjoyed by married couples. Ten years later same-sex marriage was legalised allowing same sex couples to get married. This consequently gave rise to the campaign for the right for heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships.

There are many reasons why couples decide not to get married. Some couples see marriage as an outdated patriarchal institution and some simply do not agree with the religious aspects of marriage. Whatever the reason for this, couples living together should remember that they do not have the same protection in the event of separation as married couples or civil partners.

R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for the International Development

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan wanted to have their relationship legally recognised without religious involvement. They wanted to raise their children as equal partners and sought to obtain the same stability and legal protection for their family as those who have chosen to get married. The pair gave their notice of intention to form a civil partnership and were refused by the Registrars.

The couple began their legal battle, seeking a judicial review of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the government’s failure to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. The claim was rejected at first instance on the grounds that if there was no obligation to extend marriage to same-sex couples there would be no obligation to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.

The couple appealed the High Court decision, however, the Court of Appeal upheld the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships despite agreeing that the couple’s rights had been breached. Steinfeld and Keidan consequently appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

On 27 June 2018 in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the Civil Partnership Act 2014 was incompatible with both Article 8 (right to respect for private life) and Article 14 (prohibition on discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Having won their legal battle, it is now up to the Government to implement the changes.

On 2 October 2018, the Prime Minister announced that the law will be changing to allow different sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. The Government intends to introduce this amending legislation in the next Parliamentary session. This will hopefully put an end to heterosexual couples who do not want to marry having no way of legally recognising their relationships or protecting themselves financially.

Until the law changes, there are still around 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK with limited legal rights upon separation. If you are not married and are thinking of separating, then please contact our Family Team.