THE BLOG

A Call To Arms For Equal Civil Partnerships

21/02/2017 16:38
Jack Taylor via Getty Images

More couples need to stand up, like Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, and demand the freedom to choose how to define their relationship. There are millions of unmarried couples in the UK and their ability to choose between marriage and civil partnership should not be determined by their sexual orientation.

While I accept that civil partnerships started out as the government's 'half-way house' on the road to legalising gay marriage, they now offer an important alternative for couples who want to publicly declare their love and commitment without having to compromise their views on marriage as an institution with a history of sexism and homophobia.

The Court of Appeal has today recognised the human rights violation inherent in the current law and the clock is ticking for action. The government's current policy, to "wait and see" whether fewer couples choose civil partnerships now that gay marriage has been introduced, is unsustainable.

Predictably, the number of civil partnerships fell significantly after gay marriage became legal. However, in 2015 there were still 861 couples who chose civil partnerships over marriage.

Same sex couples still clearly want the option of civil partnerships and there is an increasing demand for mixed sex civil partnerships as well. This is obvious from the support for Rebecca and Charles' campaign, which has hit the headlines again today. Their petition has over 70,000 signatures and the public gallery was full in the Court of Appeal this morning. But we need to increase the volume.

By simply extending civil partnerships to all, the government will remove the current discrimination and offer unmarried and cohabiting families access to the same legal protection on death or separation that is on offer to married couples.

As a family lawyer, I cannot repeat it enough: there is no such thing as common law marriage.

The current law does not protect unmarried or cohabiting couples. For example, if their relationship breaks down, they cannot claim financial support beyond child maintenance, even if they have given up a career to care for the family. They also have no entitlement to the family home if it is not in their name, even if they have lived there for decades and contributed to the household finances (although they may have housing claims on behalf of children). If one partner dies, the picture is not much better - the surviving partner must pay inheritance tax, even after say a 40 year relationship, which can often sadly result in them having to sell their home. There is no entitlement to National Insurance bereavement benefits, state pensions or private pensions (unless they had a specific arrangement). Unmarried couples also do not enjoy the government's tax breaks for married couples/civil partners.

Civil partnerships have been open to all in the Isle of Man since July 2016. However, the unions of those couples who eloped there last year to register as civil partners are still not recognised here. The mainland needs to catch up and do so quickly.

Parliament must now step in to correct the legal hangover created by a government that was unwilling to go all the way first time around with the Civil Partnership Act. Everyone, be they straight, gay or bisexual, should have the same choice about how to formalise their relationship.

Today's decision is a setback to Rebecca and Charles' campaign. However, equal civil partnerships already have cross-party support from MPs and the second reading of Tim Loughton's Private Member's Bill is due to take place on 24 March 2017. Hopefully, the Court of Appeal's ruling today will encourage Parliament to put an end to this unjustifiable discrimination.

If you haven't already, please sign the petition, please email your MP and please get involved.

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