February 21, 2017

Heterosexual couple lose civil partnership Court of Appeal battle

Last year, my colleague, Dheeba Ali, wrote about the first ever heterosexual civil partnership on the Isle of Man. In the rest of the British Isles though, heterosexual civil partnerships are not allowed by law.

Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan felt that this discriminated against their human rights: why can same sex couples enter into either a marriage or civil partnership, whilst heterosexual couples can only enter in to a marriage?

Why a civil partnership?

Miss Steinfield and Mr Keidan felt that while marriage was a very meaningful expression of people’s love and commitment, it was not for everybody. For them, marriage had religious and patriarchal connotations they did not think were reflective of their relationship.

Many people may have the same doubts and ultimately the choice between marriage and civil partnership is a personal decision for each couple to make.

Except that, for heterosexual couples, it is not currently their decision to make. Same sex couples opposed to the idea of marriage can secure the same rights by entering into a civil partnership. Heterosexual couples do not have this alternative.

Where next?

The Court of Appeal today upheld the earlier judgment. However, all three judges felt there was potential for a breach of human rights. The appeal was dismissed on a legal technicality; the Government should be allowed more time to address the inequality faced by heterosexual couples.

The decision then was not the complete success which Miss Steinfield and Mr Keidan had hoped for. However, there are clear signs from the judges that the current legal position may well be a breach of heterosexual couples’ rights to equality.

It will take a change of law for this to be remedied. In the face of growing public, and perhaps also judicial, support for change, it will be interesting to see whether the Government has any plans to allow heterosexual civil partnerships in the near future.

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