The protracted legal battle to allow opposite sex couples to enter into civil partnerships reached the Supreme Court today, as campaigners Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan call on the government to ‘take responsibility’.
The couple have been fighting for equal civil partnerships for years. In 2016, their claim was rejected by the High Court, when Mrs Justice Andrews ruled that the government’s refusal to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples was not a breach of human rights.
Steinfeld and Keidan argued that not being allowed enter into a civil partnership breached their Article 8 right to family and private life under the Human Rights Convention. This claim was dismissed, as the government successfully argued that it had “fulfilled its obligations” in making a means of “formal recognition of their relationship” available.
In a statement read outside the Supreme Court this morning, Louise Whitfield, representing the couple, said: “This case is about equality and about the government treating people fairly. The government should not be allowed to spend five to ten years working out how to end discrimination once they have deliberately established a situation which discriminates.”
She further argued that this appeal concerned “not only those who want civil partnerships but many, many others facing discrimination”.
What Does the Law Say?
Image via RightsInfo / Benjamin Lowrie
Under the current law, same sex couples have been allowed to enter civil partnerships since 2004, and marriage as recently as 2014. Steinfeld and Keidan say the extension of marriage, but not civil partnerships, to both opposite and same sex couples is discriminatory.
In 2014 the government opted for a ‘wait and see’ approach on extending this right to opposite sex couples – a move the campaigners have called “trying to kick this issue into the long grass”.
Steinfeld told reporters: “We’re also still waiting to have a civil partnership – and so too, are literally hundreds of thousands of other couples up and down this country, and that’s why we’re here today at the UK Supreme Court.
“We promised that we would keep on going for the 3.3 million couples who want legal recognitions and financial protections but cannot have it because they are not married and because the choice of a civil partnerhsip is not open to them.
“Their reasons for not wanting to marry vary, from bad personal experiences, to conscience, to cost. But that doesn’t matter. Their children, like our children, deserve the same rights as the children of married and same sex civilly-partnered couples.
Our message to the government is simple. Stop delaying, and stop trying to kick this issue into the long grass. We’ve taken responsibility, and so should you.
“While the government has changed its ministers, its arguments and its counsels, we have just kept on going. All the people around us today show just how far we have come. Allowing different sex couples to have civil partnerships would be fair, popular, and positive for families.
“We call on the government to do the right thing now, and allow all couples the choice of a civil partnership.”
Who’s Supporting the Campaign?
Image via RightsInfo / Benjamin Lowrie
Their campaign drew public support from a broad coalition of political figures.
LGBT activist and political commentator Peter Tatchell told RightsInfo: “The battle for equal civil partnerships was begun by the LGBT rights group OutRage in 2003 when the government of Tony Blair announced that civil partnerships would only be available to same sex couples. We argued that this was sexual orientation discrimination.
“We’ve been supporting the campaign ever since to ensure that opposite sex couples have the same rights in law to have a civil partnership.”
“Right now the government is considering abolishing civil partnerships as a way of ending the inequality in civil partnerships law – rather than extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. That would be a retrograde step.
Right now the government is considering abolishing civil partnerships as a way of ending the inequality in civil partnerships law – rather than extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. That would be a retrograde step.
Peter Tatchell, LGBT activist
“It would mean potentially that 63000 same sex couples who have a civil partnership would be left in legal limbo, and perhaps even be forced to convert their civil part into a marriage – which many of them don’t want.”
Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who is pushing through a private members’ bill on extending civil partnerships, supported the couple’s action. He commented that the “whole measure is about equality and maintaining family stability.
“It is completely absurd … that different sex couples cannot have civil partnership in the same way as same sex couples.”