Court of Appeal awaits as High Court blocks straight couple civil partnerships

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By Katie King on

Lawyers take to Twitter to vent their frustration


A boyfriend and girlfriend duo has lost their bid to secure civil partnerships for straight couples — but it’s far from the end of the road.

Today, heterosexual couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan lost their judicial review challenge of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which they claimed unlawfully discriminates against them because they are straight.

The couple, represented by Karon Monaghan QC, argued that by restricting the availability of civil partnerships to homosexual couples only, the law infringes their human rights — namely Article 14, tagged to Article 8. The claimants also said that maintaining a difference in treatment has no legitimate aim, and is not justified in law. They sought a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Daniel Squires, defending the government, said that the rights were not infringed, because the couple are able to marry and to have their relationship socially recognised. He added that it’s not the state’s fault that Steinfeld and Keidan don’t like the route available to them.

After a detailed analysis of the European Court of Human Rights’ jurisprudence on the issue, the judge concluded:

Just as the UK was under no obligation to extend marriage to same-sex couples, it has never been under an obligation to extend civil partnership to heterosexual couples… For those reasons this claim falls at the first hurdle.

The reaction to this much-awaited High Court ruling has been mixed.

Some took to social media to applaud the court for protecting “traditional” civil partnerships, but the message from the lawyers is clear: this law needs changing.

There is not, however, unity about what this change should be. Should the availability of civil partnerships be widened to include heterosexual couples, or should they be abolished altogether?

When Legal Cheek spoke to family law blogger John Bolch, he had this to say:

The decision of Mrs Justice Andrews comes as no surprise. However, there really doesn’t seem to be any good reason why the law should not be changed to allow heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, as is the case in other countries.

Family law solicitor Marilyn Stowe shares Bolch’s view. She told us:

I would like to see civil partnerships opened up for all couples because I see it as offering a modern alternative to the more accepted form of a traditional marriage.

For others, following the legalisation of gay marriage, civil partnerships simply have no place in society anymore.

Luckily for these lawyers, and others who disagree with the ruling, it looks like round two is on its way.

When I went to watch the hearing last week, Mrs Justice Andrews hinted that a case of this importance would probably reach the higher courts, and now it’s looking likely that this will happen.

Though she dismissed the couple’s judicial review action, the judge did give them permission to appeal. This is because the case raises issues of “wider importance”.

And Steinfeld — an academic from London — has indicated that she will be taking up Andrews’ offer and appealing the decision.

So it looks like law reform could well be on its way.

Read the judgement in full below: