This week, judgment was handed down by the Supreme Court of England and Wales in the case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who have campaigned to be able to enter into a civil partnership, historically only available for same-sex couples.
The couple wished to be able to have legal recognition of their relationship, but did not wish to get married. At present, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 only allows same-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. Today, same-sex couples have equal marriage, and are able to choose between getting married or entering into a civil partnership
The Supreme Court found that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, this does not mean that the couple can automatically enter into a civil partnership as a result of this outcome. They will have to wait for the government to change legislation to enable this, which they will now be under some pressure to do.
TLT carried out a poll in May 2018 when this case was heard by the Supreme Court and before judgment. We asked whether readers thought that civil partnerships should be open to all.
58% of respondents said that they thought civil partnerships should be available to everyone. Only 5% of respondents thought that should be for same sex couples only, and 37% felt that they should be phased out entirely.
This outcome is really positive for Rebecca and Charles. It is a shame that they had to pursue their case to the highest court in the land to resolve what was an obvious inequality in the law. However, the case doesn't end there. It is now down to the government to amend existing legislation to enable Rebecca and Charles to get the legal recognition of their relationship that the court has found they are entitled to.
However, the speed at which this is likely to happen is questionable, with Brexit being the Government's priority for the coming years. In addition, whilst it is a small victory for some, this will still leave many couples without legal rights as a result of their relationship status.
With marriage now available for all, it is likely that civil partnerships will face a steady decline and could well be phased out, as our poll suggests.
Unmarried couples still remain vulnerable and are not offered the same protection as married couples and civil partners, or indeed anything remotely similar. This affects a growing section of society, many of whom think they are protected by virtue of being a "common law spouse". There is no such thing, and a review of the protection (or lack of) that the law currently offers to cohabitants is long overdue.
If you are thinking of entering into a civil partnership, or are in a cohabiting relationship, and have questions after reading this article, please get in touch.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.