Supreme Court Ruling: Civil Partnerships and Marriages
Posted on 27th June 2018 at 12:50
Until the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (MSSCA), same-sex couples only had one option if they wished to formalise their relationship: they could enter into a civil partnership under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (CPA). However, different-sex marriage has been well-established in society in England and Wales for hundreds of years.
Many would argue that before MSSCA was introduced, there was a vast inequality in the law for same-sex couples and their rights. However, as anyone can now enter into a Marriage, it was argued that everyone's rights had reached an equilibrium.
However, for one couple, this was not the case.
The matter of R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) (Respondent)  has been heard in the Supreme Court, with the Judgement being published today.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan met in 2010 and have two children together. They explained that marriage was not an option for them due to the legacy associated with it (such as women being treated as property, rather than as having their own rights), however they wanted the legal rights associated with being married. Under the CPA, a couple would have the same rights as a married couple, including being each other's next of kin, they would be covered by the same inheritance laws and they would have the same rights in relation to pensions, amongst other benefits. Unfortunately, the law does not currently allow opposite-sex couples to enter into a Civil Partnership.
Steinfeld and Keidan argued that this was unfair, and launched an appeal of the law in the Court of Appeal, which was refused in February 2017. They were not convinced that this was the end, though, and they subsequently appealed the matter in the Supreme Court in June 2018, when the Justices have today unanimously ruled that the appellant's rights under both article 14 and article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights has been breached, namely the prohibition of discrimination and the right to respect for private and family life, respectively.
The Court of Appeal had previously ruled that there was a potential breach of the couples' human rights, but due to the relatively new nature of the MSSCA, the Government should be given more time to re-consider the terms of the CPA and whether this should be amended to include different-sex couples, or whether it should be repealed following the introduction of the MSSCA.
The Supreme Court explains in it's Judgement Summary that the principal issue before the Court was whether the Government could justify the discrimination if they needed time to investigate how best to eliminate the discrimination by amending or repealing the CPA. Eventually they ruled that the decision to allow the CPA to continue having effect by the Government without extending this to different-sex couples was made consciously at the time of creating the new MSSCA and, although the Government may have felt justified in their reasons for doing this, the Justices ruled that the benefits of taking time to consider the options did not proportionately weigh against the issues arising for different-sex couples if they were not in a civil partnership at the time of their deaths. For example, if Steinfeld and Keidan were not in a civil partnership when one of them died due to the CPA not covering them, they would not have the same rights as a married couple.
Although the Judgement does not mean that the law has been automatically changed, it does make it more likely that the Government will look at enacting changes to the law, to make it equal for all couples, regardless of their sex.
If you are cohabiting with your partner and want to find out what rights you would have if you separated, contact MG Legal's expert Family Solicitors in Lancaster on 01524 581 306 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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