Civil Partnerships – Supreme Court Judgment

In the recent decision of Steinfeld and Keidan -v- The Secretary of State for International Development, all five Supreme Court Law Lords were in agreement that there was no legal justification to continue the discrimination that now exists in preventing couples of the same sex entering into a Civil Partnership.

The history is that the Civil Partnership Act in 2004 allowed same sex couples legal recognition of their relationship as they were able to register a civil partnership. This was at the time when same sex couples were not allowed to be married. However in 2013 the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was brought into UK law which allowed same sex couples to get married and if they had a previous civil partnership to convert this into a marriage.

However opposite sex couples were still specifically excluded from entering into a civil partnership.

The Law Society Gazette reports that “last month the Government Equalities Office said further research was required to determine the future of civil partnerships and that it expects to consult on the future operation of civil partnerships in 2020”.

Judgment in Steinfeld and Keidan –v- Secretary of State for International Development.

A Judgment was given by the Supreme Court on the 27th June 2018 by five Law Lords all in agreement. The case or judicial review was brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan for the governments failure to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. It was argued on their behalf that to confine the availability of civil partnerships to same sex couples was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As can be seen the government has been conducting further research but this research is likely to be delayed until 2020.

The Supreme Court said that Parliament and the Government had two options available to them after The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 MSSCA took effect. The Court stated that the introduction of MSSCA could have been deferred to allow research which the Government now considers necessary to be conducted. Secondly “the Government could have extended the institution of civil partnerships to different sex couples until those researches had been completed”.

Lord Kerr giving the Lead Judgment stated :- “I shall make it unequivocally clear that the Government had to eliminate the inequality of treatment immediately. This could have been done by either abolishing civil partnerships or by instantaneously extending them to different sex couples.”

Lord Kerr stated that the appellants in the action Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan wished to enter into a legally recognised relationship but had “a conscientious objection to marriage”. However they did wish their relationship legally recognised. The couple have been in a long term relationship and had two children together. Lord Kerr said “It is not disputed that their unwillingness to marry is based on genuine conviction. Nor is it disputed that they wish to have their relationship legally recognised is other than entirely authentic”.

 Lord Kerr further went on the state :-

“the point at which the now admitted discrimination will come to an end is still not in sight. The interests of the community in denying those different sex couples who have a genuine objection to being married the opportunity to enter a civil partnership are unspecified and not easy to envisage.

And the government cannot yet give any assurance about the introduction of compliant legislation”.

 The Supreme Court therefore reached the decision that the appeal by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan should be allowed and that the government therefore made a declaration that Sections 1 and 3 of The Civil Partnership Act in so far as they prevent a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership were found “incompatible with Article 14 of ECHR when taken into conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention.

Following this decision a Government Equalities Office spokesman said to the Law Society Gazette : “The Government is very aware of its legal obligations and will obviously be considering this judgement of the Supreme Court with great care. We recognise the sensitive and personal issues involved in this case…..we will study the Courts judgement carefully and respond in due course”.

Whilst many family specialists have indicated that this will open the way for wider reform, it must be stated that further lobbing of the government must take place. It is to be hoped that the law reform when it takes place, allows civil partnerships for same sex couples and opposite sex couples rather than the alternative that civil partnerships would be phased out altogether.

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