February 1, 2016

Heterosexual couple lose high court civil partnership case

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan want to enjoy the same rights as same-sex couples and mark their commitment with a civil union.

The academics, from Hammersmith, West London, said they objected to the history and institution of marriage and argued that they and others faced discrimination because the law says only same-sex couples are eligible for civil partnerships.

Civil partnerships, which confer essentially the same rights and responsibilities as civil marriage, came into force in England in 2005. And though full same-sex civil marriage was eventually introduced in 2014, civil partnerships remain available to gay couples.

However, the High Court judge, Mrs Justice Andrews, said that although many people may have ‘sympathy’ with the couple, the Government’s refusal of their demand was not unlawful and not in breach of their human rights for private and family life. She said “unfairness does not necessarily equate to incompatibility” with European human rights law.

The couple were given leave to appeal.

Dr Steinfeld, 34, said after the ruling: “We made this claim because the UK Government is barring us, and many thousands of opposite-sex couples like us, from the choice of forming a civil partnership, and we want this to change.

“Personally, we wish to form a civil partnership because that captures the essence of our relationship and values.

“Civil partnerships are a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, but without its history and social expectations.

“We don’t think there is sufficient justification for stopping us or other opposite-sex couples from forming civil partnerships. Unfortunately the judge has concluded otherwise.”

The government argued that civil marriage was an institution that protected the core values of family life and was entirely egalitarian, and that where the objection was ideological there was no infringement of rights.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has championed the case for equal civil partnerships for more than a decade, said the ruling was “a sad defeat for love and equality”.
Meanwhile, Ava Lee, campaign manager of the Equal Civil Partnership campaign, said it was time the government reconsidered its position on the issue.

The former children’s minister Tim Loughton has put down a 10-minute rule bill calling on the government to extend civil partnerships to all couples. An online petition supporting the proposal has received 36,000 signatures.

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