Appeal Court rules against heterosexual civil partnerships

But judges say civil partnership discrimination is not sustainable 

London – 21 February 2017


The Appeal Court in London this morning ruled against lifting the ban on opposite-sex civil partnerships but indicated that it is not sustainable. civil partnerships are only open to same-sex couples.  Currently civil partnerships are only open to same-sex couples.Commenting on today’s Court of Appeal judgement against equal civil partnerships, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner said:

“This is a defeat for love and equality. It will be a huge disappointment to the thousands of heterosexual couples who want to have a civil partnership. The court has declined to enforce the principle that in a democratic society everyone should be equal before the law.”

Mr Tatchell supported Rebecca Steinfeld’s and Charles Keidan’s legal appeal, and has lobbied for equal civil partnerships since the legislation was first proposed in 2003 for same-sex couples only. He was in court with them this morning.

“Although two of the three judges ruled that mixed-sex couples are not entitled to a civil partnership, all three conceded that the current ban cannot be maintained indefinitely – a tacit admission that civil partnership discrimination is wrong. They decided to give the government more time to resolve what Lord Justice Briggs called ‘the current impasse.’

Mr Tatchell continued:

“It cannot be right that lesbian and gay couples have two options, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage. This legal case was always about the simple quest to end discrimination and ensure equality for all. I am delighted that Charles and Rebecca will appeal this judgement to the Supreme Court and hope that justice will prevail in the end.”

The appellants, a heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, argued that the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which restricts civil partnerships to same-sex couples, is incompatible with Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and with the principle that everyone should be treated equally by law, regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

Read the full statement by Rebecca, Charles and the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign:

Over 72,000 supporters have signed a online petition urging the government to extend civil partnerships to all couples:

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan were represented by solicitor Louise Whitfield of law firm Deighton PierceGlynn, and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers.

Co-appellant Charles Keidan previously stated:

“We believe that opening civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples would complete the circle of full relationship equality that began with the hard-won victory for same-sex marriage. We campaigned for equal marriage and believe that the significance and symbolism of opening marriage to same-sex couples cannot be overstated. Legalising same-sex marriage was the recognition that everyone is of equal worth and has the right to equal treatment under the law. It’s now time for the government to demonstrate its commitment to equality by opening up civil partnerships to all couples.”

His co-appellant Rebecca Steinfeld earlier expressed the view:

“We took this case because the UK Government is barring us, and many thousands of opposite-sex couples like us, from the choice of forming a civil partnership, and we want this to change. Personally, we wish to form a civil partnership because that captures the essence of our relationship and values. Civil partnerships are a symmetrical, modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, but without its historical baggage, gendered provisions and social expectations. We don’t think there is any justification for stopping us or other opposite-sex couples from forming civil partnerships.”

The Equal Civil Partnerships campaign was launched by members of the public adversely affected by the current exclusionary legislation.

The Equal Civil Partnerships website: 

The ECP’s case for opening up civil partnerships to different-sex couples:

1. Extending civil partnerships will provide a legal and financial safety net for couples who don’t want to get married and, if they have any, for their children.
2. Every person and every couple has the right to be treated equally by the law – the current ban on different-sex civil partnerships is unfair and is at odds with that basic democratic principle.
3. This inequality can be very easily addressed with a simple amendment in Parliament to the Civil Partnership Act.

Why can’t people just get married?

There are lots of reasons people choose not to get married: from personal experiences or principles, to simply not feeling ready. Some share the feminist critique of marriage; objecting to the sexist, patriarchal traditions of wedlock. It’s not for the Government to dictate or limit people’s choices but it is for the Government to ensure that all couples are financially and legally protected – and treated equally in law.

Why is the government opposed?

The Government said at the previous court hearing was that they were debating whether to scrap civil partnerships altogether. This is likely to ring alarm bells for many people in the LGBT community and those already in same-sex civil partnerships. There are suspicions that the Government is bowing to religious pressure to oppose equal civil partnerships. Some faith leaders fear that civil partnerships will detract from marriage and lead to a fall in weddings. Ministers have previously cited the cost but the cost of civil partnerships is no greater than for marriages. In any case, the cost is not huge and equality should not be voided on financial grounds

What are the possible outcomes?

We know our legal team has a very strong case, but what matters more than anything is that the Government understands the need to extend civil partnerships to provide a legal and financial safety net for all families and their children when the couple doesn’t want to get married – and to ensure that every couple gets equal treatment by the law.

Aren’t there more important things in the world to worry about?

There are over 3 million unmarried couples in the UK, with millions more dependent children. It is really important that they are financially and legally protected. Extending civil partnerships would be a way to offer them that protection. And the ludicrous thing is this is so easy to put right.

Is there actually any demand for extending civil partnerships?

Some unmarried different-sex couple have gone to the Isle of Man to register as civil partners because UK law won’t permit them to have a civil partnership. Over 72,000 people have signed the petition calling on the Government to make this simple change to ensure they and their children are legally and financially protected. In the Netherlands, where civil partnerships have been open to all couples for more than a decade, around 10 per cent of heterosexual couples choose to have a civil partnership rather than marry. There could be a similar take-up rate if civil partnerships were available in the UK.