When the Marriage (Same Sex Couples Act) 2013 received royal assent, and the first gay wedding took place the following year, many may have thought that civil partnership would become redundant. However, a straight couple have recently had their case dismissed in the Court of Appeal by arguing that civil partnership should not be restricted to same sex couples. They argue that marriage as an institution is not the right fit for them, and instead Civil Partnership is modern and respects the equality in the partnership. This view is one that they are not alone on. It has been discussed in academia, the courts and the previous coalition government did issue a consultation on it. However, no action has been taken to change the legislation, and this court ruling largely indicated that it should be for Parliament to make the change. This is a change that needs to happen, and would allow for heterosexual couples to enter into a committed, legally recognised relationship, without the negative connotations of marriage.
This is important as it allows for choice. Marriage as an institution has been on the decline for decades. Many reasons can be cited such as people being more ambitious and career driven, the position of women changing in society, and also, a social acceptance of cohabitation. The state has seemed to want to protect marriage in many ways. In fact, that was part of the reason that David Cameron pushed for the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. He argued 'I do not support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative, I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative'. He argued in his speech that marriage provided support for children, and commitments meant a lot between two people.
Whilst I do not subscribe to that idea, I understand the substance behind it. What I do not understand is why the state believes marriage can provide stability, but not civil partnership. Both would provide the commitment, and both would provide the legal protection. It seems that the protection of marriage seems to be rooted in tradition rather than what it offers. Marriage is an institution that has benefits as aforementioned, yet, it also has a somewhat negative history for many. A large part of this stems from the patriarchal nature of marriage. For many, even though times have changed and the language used may have changed (women need no longer say they will obey their husbands in their vows), the patriarchal image of marriage has been difficult to shake. This is why some heterosexual couples are now arguing that Civil Partnership should be available to all.
The aforementioned case may have highlighted issues with the Civil Partnership Act 2004. There seemed to be an indication that Article 14, which prohibits discrimination, read with Article 8 which respects privacy and family life of the European Convention on Human Rights could be used to argue the legislation is unlawful. This was only hinted at, and instead, it seemed that the Court of Appeal was more convinced to leave it to Parliament. But, what this judgment has shown us is that there is a potential recognition that the Act should change, and that Civil Partnership should be available to straight couples, as well as same sex couples. This is something that is long overdue, and would allow for legal recognition and commitment, but in a modern institution. This would not be an attack on marriage, but merely opening up an element of choice to couples.