Following on from the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2018 that the law which prevents opposite-sex couples entering into civil partnerships is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, Prime Minister Theresa May has officially announced on 2 October 2018 that civil partnerships will be extended to opposite-sex couples.
Since same-sex couples have been legally allowed to marry under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (MSSCA), those couples have had the option of either marrying, or entering into a civil partnership, in order to formalise their relationship. The same options have not been available to that of opposite-sex couples to date. In their ruling in June 2018 the Supreme Court put pressure on the government to review the UK legislation in this area.
Opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples will ensure that there is an equality of rights between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples when making a decision to formalise their relationship.
A civil partnership gives a couple virtually the same rights as a married couple when it comes to the breakdown of a relationship, or on death. So, for those opposite-sex couples who view marriage as an institution which does not reflect an equal relationship, this proposed change will enable them to formalise their relationship and be provided with the financial security afforded by marriage, which is a welcomed change. In her statement at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham the Prime Minister said that “this change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship, but don’t necessarily want to get married”.
Following this announcement, the question on all our minds is when will the new legislation be brought in? Unfortunately a timeline is yet to be announced, and therefore whilst the government has confirmed that change is coming, for the time being opposite-sex couples still only have the option of marriage to formalise their relationship.
Since 2014, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have been campaigning for their right to enter into a civil partnership, and to end the inequality that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA) imposes upon same-sex couples. Upon hearing Theresa May’s announcement on 2 October they have commented that “this is great news and a major step in the right direction, but we will only celebrate when legislation is agreed and the government confirms the date for when the first different sex civil partnership can take place”.
Once the new legislation is brought into force this will allow opposite-sex couples to choose either to marry or to have a civil partnership if they wish to formalise their relationship. Of course this is not mandatory and there will still be cohabiting couples who choose not to formalise their relationship despite the change.
Now that the government will be addressing the UK legislation relating to civil partnerships, it is hoped discussions will be opened up further, and that consideration and legislation will also be considered to financially protect all dependant and vulnerable cohabitants.