These days you can hardly swing a cat without bumping into a campaign for equal rights. And rightly so, it’s time we moved past inequality and unfairness. This month, heterosexual couples were granted a very early Christmas gift; it is now possible for men and women to enter a civil partnership.
What is a civil partnership?
A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people. Civil partnerships were introduced into law in 2004 and gave same-sex couples many of the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. At the time, same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the UK and would not become legal for a further ten years.
Why were civil partnerships important?
Before civil partnerships, there was no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. This presented a problem when couples split. Couples of opposite sexes could marry, and the law had to recognise their relationship in a special way, but same-sex couples had no such option. They were essentially, in the eyes of the law, friends.
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t about who gets the sofa and who gets the bed. Until civil partnerships, if one half of a same-sex relationship was in a serious accident, their partner would have no right to make any decisions on their lovers’ behalf when they were in hospital. Or, if one of them had a biological child and then something happened to that parent, the other half of the partnership would have no legal rights over a young person they perhaps helped to raise.
What is the difference between marriage and equal civil partnership?
There are not many differences between marriages and civil partnerships, but there are a few worth noting
First, let’s talk about the similarities.
Married couples and civil partners share the same property rights, pension benefits and the ability to obtain parental responsibility for a partner’s child.
They also have the same next of kin rights when it comes to important decisions at the hospital and have the same rights as married couples when it comes to inheritance tax. These are all very, very important to most couples, same-sex or not.
Now, the differences.
A marriage certificate requires the names of both partners’ fathers, while a civil partnership certificate requires the names of both parents for each person entering the agreement. Civil partners cannot call themselves married and end their partnership with dissolution by obtaining a dissolution order instead of a decree absolute. Civil partners are not permitted to dissolve their partnership if one partner has been adulterous, but marriage can end on these terms.
Their similar, but not the same. That’s the problem.
What’s the problem?
Since 2014, same-sex couples have been able to choose from the rights that come with all three legal situations; living together, civil partnership, or marriage.
Couples of opposite sexes were not permitted to form a civil partnership. Just as same-sex couples argued that being denied the right to marriage was unequal and not fair, heterosexual couples have managed to do the same. As of now, couples of opposite sexes are permitted to enter a civil partnership.
Remember, this is about equality.
How did this come about?
Five years ago, heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan decided that they would like to form a civil partnership. They discovered that they couldn’t. They decided to fight for the right to the ‘perfect expression’ of their love for each other. They were defeated in the Court of Appeal February 2018 but were given the go-ahead for a Supreme Court hearing and were successful
A panel of Supreme Court justices agreed that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was ‘incompatible’ with human rights law on discrimination and family life.
Steinfield and Keidan became one of the first couples to give notice of a civil partnership between and opposite-sex couple on 2nd December.
Steinfield said that the option for opposite-sex couples to file for civil partnerships needed to be made available because some feminist women would like to ‘formalise a relationship of equals and throw away titles like wife, together with all the gendered expectations that come with it’.
Marriage does not always fit in with a person’s ideologies.
Why might equal civil partnerships be the preferred option?
For some people, marriage is patriarchal. We can see why. In the ‘olden days’, women were forced into marriage to ensure economic security. Men became their legal guardians and her rights and desires were surpassed by those of her husband.
For this reason, lots of modern women feel uncomfortable with the idea of marriage, but they still want the protection that comes with forming a recognised legal partnership.
Marriage rates have been falling for several years and couples are marrying later than ever before. This is most likely because the modern world is a happier and more accepting place for non-married couples. Still, it’s important to protect yourself. For many, civil partnerships offer a comfortable middle ground.
For more information about your rights as an individual or a couple, please contact us on 0161 491 3933 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.