2 December 2019, marked the first day that mixed-sex couples could apply to enter into a Civil Partnership. This means (given the 28-day notice period) that the first registrations should take place from 31 December 2019. But what are “Civil Partnerships”, and why is it only now that all couples have the option of entering into them?

What is a Civil Partnership, and why were they brought into law?

A Civil Partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people that provides many of the same legal benefits as a marriage.

Feeling that the nation was not ready for same-sex marriages, the government enacted The Civil Partnership Act 2004 to allow only same-sex couples to enter into legal relationships. At the time, this was seen as a somewhat half-way house and a missed opportunity, with the government appearing to support same-sex relationships but still differentiating them from those of mixed-sex couples and traditional marriage.

Legalising Civil Partnerships, although a welcome step, did not stop pressure for extending marriage to same-sex couples.  As a result of that pressure, same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013 with the first such marriages taking place the following year.

Legalising same-sex marriage had the effect of making Civil Partnerships obsolete. From their peak in 2006 of nearly 15,000 partnerships, by 2014 (after same-sex marriage became law) only 1,683 Civil Partnership ceremonies took place, dropping to just 908 in 2017.

The inequality of equality

Although the 2013 Act sought to re-address perceived inequality between mixed and same-sex couples by permitting same-sex marriage, a fresh inequality developed. Same-sex couples who wished to enter a legally recognised relationship now had a choice regarding whether to marry or enter a Civil Partnership, but there was no such choice for mixed-sex couples.

This inequality led to pressure to extend Civil Partnerships to mixed-sex couples, allowing such couples who did not wish to ‘marry’ due to ideological objections (such as sexist perceptions of women being ‘given away’ by their fathers and promising to ‘obey’ their husbands) to still enter legally recognised relationships with their partners.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan

In 2018, Rebecca and Charles sought to challenge the above inequality, and enter into an, as then, non-permitted mixed-sex Civil Partnership. The case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court, who found that that the current law breached the couple’s article 14 (probation of discrimination) and 8 (the right to respect for private life) and, therefore, UK law was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

The government reacted to this decision favourably, with then Prime Minister, Theresa May, announcing an extension of Civil Partnerships to mixed-sex couples through the introduction of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (recognition etc.) bill earlier this year.

Protection for non-married (mixed-sex) couples

The change of law will allow approximately 3.3 million cohabiting mixed-sex couples to enter into legally recognised relationships. It will also provide them protections should their relationships end or one party dies, as Civil Partnerships make it easier to inherit property or receive pension death benefits.

Anthony Collins Solicitors believes the change of law is a sensible and much-needed step. Whilst it re-balances the law when it comes to same/mixed-sex couples, it also uses current law to meet an existing need by providing security to the growing numbers of cohabiting non-married couples who have little or no protection if their relationship comes to an end, beyond basic trusts law in respect of property.

Further information

Should you require any further information about Civil Partnerships, please call one of our team on 0121 212 7417.