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Holy matrimony or civil partnership, should straight couples have both options too?

Anna Stokeld discusses the recent bill that considered a change in law to allow ‘happily unmarried’ heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnership.

In 2004, the Civil Partnership Act gave same-sex couples the ability to enter into a civil partnership, which enabled them to enjoy the benefits only previously available to a married couple, such as inheritance and next of kin arrangements. Heterosexuals were not able to enter into civil partnerships, only marriage, to formalise their relationships.

More recently, in 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force allowing same sex couples to marry, providing them with both options. Heterosexual couples, however, still had only the one option.

In October 2015, a bill was heard which proposed to change the law so that heterosexual couples can enter into a civil partnership as well as same-sex couples. This stemmed from various challenges by individuals who felt that, as heterosexual couples, they should be allowed to choose between marriage and a civil partnership in the same way that same-sex couples can.

Some will remember the campaign launched by London couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who sought to ban the restriction on heterosexual couples being allowed to enter into civil partnerships.

They argued that a civil partnership would be a far better reflection of their relationship than a marriage and by refusing to allow them to enter into a civil partnership, they felt that the law discriminated against them on the basis of their 'genders and sexual orientation'.

So does one option have advantages over the other? Legally, a civil partnership offers exactly the same rights as enjoyed by a married couple. Civil partners will have the same tax benefits as married couples, including inheritance and CGT as well as employment benefits, pension benefits and recognition under immigration legislation.

There is also the advantage of it being an entirely civil event which avoids the 'possessive' shackles of marriage and simply allows couples to be recognised as the other's next of kin which is, ultimately, what many couples want.

The civil partnership route offers a couple the opportunity to acquire legal rights without the religious and patriarchal connotations of marriage. Some see the antiquated language of 'husband and wife' as misogynistic and insulting to homosexuals.

On the opposite bench, pro-marriage campaigners argue that this is simply an attempt to devalue the sanctity and 'gloss' of marriage by bringing relationships down to a mere business arrangement by those wanting only to enjoy the financial benefits afforded to a civil partnership.

From a legal perspective, there is no difference between the two. It boils down to simply a matter of preference.

Fundamentally, this is an argument about fairness and democracy. By not allowing heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, it gives weight to the idea of marriage being the better and traditional institution. If same-sex couples are allowed the choice between marriage and a civil partnership, heterosexual couples should arguably enjoy the same choice. Otherwise, many say, their human rights are breached.

The bill, proposed in October 2015 has raised this subject once more. A judicial review has been granted for January 2016 to investigate whether this country should follow the lead of the Netherlands and allow 'happily unmarried' heterosexual couples to enjoy a civil partnership like same-sex couples. Time will tell as to whether equality extends in both directions.

This article was written for and first published by Spears Magazine and is available here.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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