Civil Partnerships are Old News? Not for Some Couples

The UK’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a straight couple who say that their being denied a civil partnership is against their civil rights.

The ruling was handed down on June 27 in a case brought by Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, from London. They sued the government, because they contend that the UK’s Civil Partnerships Act, which only applies to same-gender couples, is unlawful. In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court agreed, saying that its arbitrary differentiation between same-gender couples and opposite gender couples breaks the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The interests of the community in denying those different-sex couples who have a genuine objection to being married, the opportunity to enter into a civil partnership are unspecified and not easy to envisage,” the court said. “In contrast, the denial of those rights for an indefinite period may have far-reaching consequences for those who wish to avail themselves – and who are entitled to assert them – now.”

The couple, who met in 2010, have long fought for the right to have a civil partnership because, they argue, they are in a deeply committed relationship and wish to access the legal framework of a civil partnership but are prevented by law because heterosexuals are only offered marriage.

This is a relic of the UK’s previous laws which banned same-gender couples from marriage but offered them the (mostly) equivalent partnership rights through civil partnerships. When that law was changed earlier this decade, the UK entered a transition period where same-gender couples were able to maintain their civil partnerships or access marriage.

Opposite gender couples have never been given that right.

Specifically in this case, Steinfeld and Keidan contend that they are being forced to have a marriage when they find the institution’s history of treating women as property unacceptable. They took their case to the courts but were repeatedly rebuffed at the lower and high courts. That the Supreme Court has now validated their fight has left the couple feeling both relieved and at the same time frustrated.

“We are feeling elated,” Ms Steinfield told the BBC. “But at the same time we are feeling frustrated the government has wasted taxpayers’ money in fighting what the judges’ have called a blatant inequality.”

Why Civil Partnerships Matter

The fight for marriage equality has been a critical one. It has meant same-gender couples being able to access the rights of marriage and, by extension, the validation that the historical legacy of marriage provides. Marriage is, for many communities, the most significant way of celebrating a loving partnership.

But this is not true for everyone. Like Steinfeld and Keidan, many couples — opposite-gender and same-gender couples alike — have deep reservations about marriage because of its legacy of abuse and entrapment of women.

It was critical to win the marriage equality battle, because within that was the larger fight of ensuring legal and social parity for same-gender couples.

Now, we see a new fight emerging, one surrounding the validity of marriage itself and whether it is time to retire marriage in the secular sphere in favor of a different union like civil partnerships, or at the very least providing civil partnerships as an option for those who want it.

Bisexual and polyamorous people, as well as gender fluid and some trans individuals, have said they have concerns about marriage subsuming civil partnerships because they feel like marriage creates a framework that is quite black and white: a couple is either straight or gay, and they have to be monogamous in the traditional sense of the word.

Civil partnerships, on the other hand, do not carry those same rigid assumptions, and because of that, they are more adaptable and give more room to self-identify. It is also conceivable that forming a multi-partner legal bond through civil partnerships could be more easily accessed and workable than dealing with marriage law. But there are equally valid arguments that say marriage should be opened up to multiple consenting partners.

Clearly, this is a complex issue, but the UK’s Supreme Court ruling is an important one for keeping the discussion alive as to how our relationships can be formalized and recognized in law and why a one-shoe-fits-all approach is not always wise, let alone desirable.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

35 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

thanks for posting

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson6 months ago

Thank you.

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John W
John W7 months ago

Thanks.

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John W
John W7 months ago

Thanks for sharing this. :-)

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Dave fleming
Past Member 7 months ago

thanks

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Winnie A
Winn A7 months ago

Thanks

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Winnie A
Winn A7 months ago

noted

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Danuta W
Danuta W7 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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hELEN h
hELEN hEARFIELD7 months ago

tyfs

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Janet B
Janet B7 months ago

Thanks

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