In this blog, director David Allison considers the future of civil partnerships.
The latest ONS statistics report that civil partnerships have halved since the introduction of same sex marriage. This rather unsurprising statistic was published by the ONS in their recent bulletin (08/09/2016) “Civil Partnerships in England and Wales: 2015“.
The impact of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is clearly being felt. However, there were still 861 civil partnerships registered during 2015. Same sex marriage has not been the death knell of civil partnership that might have been expected.
So, where does this leave civil partnerships? At present they are available only to same sex couples and were, of course, introduced to give same sex couples rights equivalent to marriage at a time when it was too politically and socially difficult to have same sex marriage. Times have clearly changed but should civil partnership continue now that we have same sex marriage and, if so, should it be opened up to opposite sex couples? This question was debated during the passage of the 2013 Act and, as a consequence, a requirement was inserted in the statue for the government to review the future of civil partnership. That review was concluded and a report published on 23 January 2014. The report found that there was no united call for change and so the government would do nothing until such time as it was possible to consider the impact of the introduction of same sex marriage. The 2013 Act enabled same sex marriages to take place from 29 March 2014.
In January this year judgment was given in the case of R (Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for Education. The case was brought by a heterosexual couple who wished to register a civil partnership. They argued that their rights to a private and family life were infringed by allowing opposite sex couples only one option – marriage – when opposite sex couples have the two options of marriage and civil partnership. As was reported in the blog by Charlotte Symes, Mr Justice Andrews DBE disagreed. He also said that if he was wrong, the government was justified in waiting until it was in a better position to evaluate the impact of the 2013 Act.
In October 2015 the ONS reported that 15,098 same sex couples had legally married since 2014 when same sex marriage became lawful. These figures will have included the large numbers that undoubtedly married immediately following same sex marriage becoming lawful (mirroring the significant numbers that registered civil partnerships immediately following implementation of the Civil Partnership Act 2004). Nonetheless, marriage would appear to be the favoured option for same sex couples.
So, should civil partnerships now be consigned to history? Arguably yes but it is clear that there is a significant minority of same sex couples who would prefer a registered relationship that is not marriage. So, do we leave civil partnerships open for only same sex couples? The Steinfeld case shows that there are also opposite sex couples who would prefer another option. The church may well oppose it as they did the opening up of marriage to same sex couples. Whatever the way forward the government cannot avoid making a decision indefinitely.
To find out more about civil partnerships and same sex marriage, click here.
David Allison is a director at Family Law in Partnership. David acts for a wide range of individuals including business owners, entrepreneurs, bankers, other lawyers and their spouses. The focus of his practice is financial claims on divorce, particularly those with an international dimension, but he is also well known for his expertise in the legal issues affecting cohabitants, same sex couples and civil partners. Contact David at E: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or T:020 7420 5000