Civil Partnerships for Heterosexual Couples?

In a  challenge to the ruling that only same-sex couples could enter into a  civil partnership, Rebecca Steinfeld  and Charles Keidan, objected to the  "patriarchal baggage of  marriage"  and  wanted  to secure  legal  recognition  of their seven  year  relationship  by entering into a civil partnership. They argued that the Government's position on civil partnerships is "incompatible with equality law".

The Court of Appeal has now dismissed their challenge, however, the judges did agree that the couple had established a potential violation of Article 14 of the European Convention (discrimination), when taken with Article 8 (respect for private and family life). According to the BBC, the couple had lost by the "narrowest of margins" as all three judges accepted there was a potential breach of their human rights. Ultimately, the case was lost on the point that the Government should be given a little more time to address the discrimination faced by heterosexual couples. Ms Steinfeld said that they were pleased that the ruling has shown that the Government must act very soon to end this "unfair situation", with all three judges agreeing that the couple were being treated  differently  because of their sexual orientation,  which  impacted  on their  private  and family life. Mr Keidan added that the Court of Appeal made it clear that the current status quo cannot continue and that by opening up civil partnerships to mixed sex couples, would be "fair, popular, good for families and children and long overdue". Mr Steinfeld and Ms Keidan intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

Whilst Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan felt that the ruling gave them reason to be positive and to keep going, the current position remains that only same sex couples have the right to enter into a civil partnership.

The legal issues raised in this case make it clear that the government needs to address the discrimination faced by heterosexual couples. Whilst it is true that heterosexual couples can get married instead, the idea of marriage is often viewed as dated, unequal, unnecessarily religious/formal and unrepresentative of the relationship between a modern couple.  Therefore, allowing heterosexual couples the right to enter into civil partnerships would enable them to secure legal rights and formalise their relationship in a way that suits them, particularly if they don’t believe in the idea of marriage.

If you would like any further advice regarding civil partnerships, unmarried couples rights or any other family related issue, please contact Partner and Head of Family Law Sheldon Henry on 0207 226 0570 or email


Published 21 February 2017.