Prime Minister Theresa May has recently announced that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will soon be able to choose between a civil partnership and marriage. The Scottish government is also in the process of consulting on whether mixed-sex couples in Scotland will be able to enter into civil partnerships.
The proposed change was sparked by a couple who campaigned for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage. Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, met in 2010 and have two children. They decided that marriage was not an option for them due to its association with traditional gender roles:
“We want to raise our children as equal partners and feel that a civil partnership - a modern, symmetrical institution - sets the best example for them,” they explained.
The Supreme Court heard the couple’s case and ruled that current UK law was “incompatible” with human rights laws on discrimination, as well as the right to a private and family life. This decision overturns the Court of Appeal’s prior judgement, which rejected the couple’s claim in February of last year.
Introduced in 2004, Civil Partnerships provided same-sex couples, unable to marry at the time, the same legal and financial protection as marriage. Same-sex marriage has since been legalised under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales, and the Marriage and Civil Partnership Act 2014 in Scotland. Same-sex marriage has not been legalised in Northern Ireland.
In England, Scotland and Wales, same-sex couples now have the option of choosing between marriage or a civil partnership.
By granting mixed-sex couples access to civil partnerships, they would have the same legal and financial standing of those who have chosen to marry. There are various reasons why a couple might choose a civil partnership over marriage. These include not wanting the patriarchal associations of marriage reflecting on their union or marriage’s religious connotations, as well as legal recognition of their partnership.
Many couples seek security in regards to inheritance rights, tax, pensions, next-of-kin arrangements and/or citizenship in a post-Brexit UK. There are currently around 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK, many of whom are unaware that they do not possess the same rights and protections as those married or in civil partnerships.
Civil Partnerships exist under different names in different countries and vary in their processes. Many countries across Europe which offer mixed-sex couples this option have introduced gender-neutral civil partnerships. France’s civil solidarity pact, for example, is available to both same-sex and heterosexual couples, offering the same legal benefits as married couples, but are easier to annul during the divorce process.
A minority of European countries which once offered civil partnerships to same-sex couples decided to scrap the concept following the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This includes Denmark, the world’s first country to introduce civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 1989, which then removed them when same-sex marriage became legal in 2012.
In the U.S., the laws regarding “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” are passed at a state or city level. This means that each state often has their own processes for civil partnerships.