February 21, 2017
The Court of Appeal has today ruled that the current ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships cannot continue indefinitely.
In a split decision (2:1), London couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan narrowly lost their legal challenge to the government’s ongoing ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships.
Although all three judges agreed that the government’s policy of “wait and see” must end soon, two judges concluded that the government should be allowed slightly more time before coming to a decision on the future status of civil partnerships. The ruling states that the government now has only a short window to ‘wait and evaluate’ before deciding whether to extend civil partnerships to all. If they fail to reach a decision soon the government will be in breach of the Human Rights Act the court ruled.
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice where the ruling was handed down, supporters of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign called on the government to announce a simple amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech so as to extend civil partnerships to all. They said there is clear demand for that to happen, it is simple to do, and it would be good for families and children.
The case was brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, a mixed-sex couple from London who want to form a civil partnership.
Ms Steinfeld said:
“We are pleased that today’s ruling has shown that the government must act very soon to end this unfair situation. All three judges agreed that we’re being treated differently because of our sexual orientation, and that this impacts our private and family life. All three rejected the argument that we could ‘just get married.’ All three emphasized that the government cannot maintain the status quo for much longer – they are on borrowed time. Lady Justice Arden accepted our case on almost every point. She stated: “My overall conclusion: the appellants are right.” We lost on a technicality – that the government should be allowed a little more time to make a decision. So there’s everything to fight for, and much in the ruling that gives us reason to be positive and keep going.”
Mr Keidan said:
“The Court of Appeal has made it clear the status quo cannot continue. The government should now recognize the benefits of opening civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples. The measure is fair, popular, good for families and children, and long overdue. They have everything to gain.”
Charles and Rebecca originally applied for notice to form a civil partnership in 2014, but were turned away by the registrars. They took their case to the High Court in January 2015, but the judge then ruled that the ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships was not unlawful. The judges in Charles and Rebecca’s appeal were clear that the current unequal access to civil partnerships cannot continue much longer.
In their ruling, Lord Justice Beatson said: “I do not consider that the discrimination in the status quo can be maintained for long.” Lord Justice Briggs said. “‘I can well understand the frustration which must be felt by the Appellants and those couples who share their view about marriage, about what they regard as the Government’s slow progress on this issue. Some couples in their position may suffer serious fiscal disadvantage if, for example, one of them dies before they can form a civil partnership.’
The couple’s solicitor, Louise Whitfield from Deighton Pierce Glynn, said:
“It is deeply disappointing that my clients lost their appeal by such a narrow margin on such an important issue, particularly when all three judges readily accepted that there had been a potential violation of their human rights. All three also agreed that the time available to the Government to address the obvious discrimination Charles and Rebecca face is limited. Lady Justice Arden accepted that time had already run out, whilst her fellow judges were unfortunately prepared to allow the Government a little more time, and thus the appeal was lost on this issue alone. It is therefore clear that the Government must act quickly in any event to deal with the discrimination which the court as a whole recognised could not continue indefinitely and which they agreed is ultimately unsustainable. We are therefore awaiting an urgent response from the Secretary of State as to her position in response to the judgment, whilst preparing an immediate application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
Since Charles and Rebecca first appeared in court over 72,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for civil partnerships to be open to all. The Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign that was set up to support them has attracted the backing of MPs, MEPs, and Assembly Members from all parties, as well as from campaigners like Caroline Criado-Perez, Owen Jones, and Peter Tatchell, and organisations including Liberty and the Women’s Budget Group.
One supporter of the campaign is the education campaigner and journalist Fiona Millar. Ms Millar said:
“I am one of thousands and thousands of people in the UK in a mixed-sex relationship who will now be looking at the government and waiting for them to close the civil partnerships loophole by making them available to all. In 2004 the Labour government, albeit unwittingly, created a new, positive institution with a history, life, and future of its own. Now that that institution exists, offering a progressive and new way for couples to gain legal recognition of their relationship, it is only right and fair that that institution be available to all. I hope the government acts soon.”
The Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign believes that they stand a good chance of seeing swift action from the government because their cause now has cross-party support. MPs from nearly every major party in Parliament, including the Conservative Party, back their campaign. Conservative MP Tim Loughton recently introduced a Private Members’ Bill to give mixed-sex couples the right to a civil partnership, which has received cross-party backing.
Mr Loughton said:
“The fact that my Bill for mixed-sex civil partnerships received cross-party backing means the government has no excuse for delaying the passage of this important and positive change. I look forward to the government bringing forward a Bill to the House, one that I know colleagues in my party and across the House will support.”
Matt Hawkins, Campaign Manager of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign, said:
“Regardless of the decision made in court today this campaign has generated an incredible momentum of its own. Pursuing our legal case has always been one part of a much broader campaign and the number of people backing this cause continues to rise week on week. It’s incredible to be part of a cause that has such a broad tent of support – from MPs uniting across the political divide to organisations like Liberty and TUC Women to campaigners such as Peter Tatchell and Owen Jones. We thank all of them for taking us to this point and urge the government to recognise the force behind our cause, the desire for change, and the simplicity involved in making it happen.”
Veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said:
“This is a defeat for love and equality. It will be a huge disappointment to the thousands of heterosexual couples who would like to have a civil partnership. The court has rejected the principle that in a democratic society everyone should be equal before the law. It says that different-sex couples are not entitled to the same choices as same-sex ones. It cannot be right that lesbian and gay couples have two options, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage. This legal case was always about the simple quest to end discrimination and ensure equality for all. I hope Charles and Rebecca will appeal this judgement and that justice will prevail in the end.”
February 17, 2017
The verdict of the Court of Appeal on the legality of the current ban on mixed-sex civil partnerships will be handed down on Tuesday 21st February at 10.20AM.
A public gathering in support of mixed-sex civil partnerships will take place outside the Royal Courts of Justice from 9.45AM on the day of the judgement.
Responding to the announcement of the date,
Rebecca Steinfeld said:
“When we started our legal battle for the right to form a civil partnership three years ago we could never have envisaged the incredible levels of support that would follow. Over 72,000 people have signed our petition on Change.org calling on the government to open civil partnerships to all. We have received support from nearly every major political party. It really is remarkable but it just speaks to the fact that opening civil partnerships is popular, fair and would be good for families and children. Whatever happens on Tuesday, the campaign has showed why we need mixed-sex civil partnerships. We hope that the government will take heed and act soon to open civil partnerships to all.”
Charles Keidan said:
“We are very hopeful about Tuesday’s judgement. We believe we have not only the law but basic fairness on our side. Whatever happens on Tuesday, we will be looking to the government to open civil partnerships to all couples at the earliest opportunity. By doing so, they will be listening to the thousands of people who want to see mixed-sex civil partnerships open to all. This is the simple, fair and popular thing to do.”
February 9, 2017
Responding to the judgement by the Supreme Court that Denise Brewster should be allowed access to her late-partner’s pension though the two were not married, Matt Hawkins, Campaign Manager for the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign said:
“Firstly our thoughts and best wishes must go to Denise. We hope that today’s ruling will lay down a marker that means no one else ever has to go through eight years of court proceedings and emotional turmoil to secure their rights to the safety net and inheritance of their partner, should their partner sadly pass away without them being married.
“And looking to the future there is a very simple thing that the government can do to help minimise the chances of that turmoil being inflicted on anyone else: giving mixed-sex couples the right to a civil partnership. It’s an easy change in the law that would give millions of couples a new option and way to get legal and financial protection without some of the baggage and complexities associated with marriage. Denise has done an incredible thing not only in committing to this fight but in raising awareness of the lack of security for unmarried cohabiting mixed-sex couples – something we hope will give a big boost to our campaign for mixed-sex civil partnerships.”
February 2, 2017
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has pledged to make representations to the government about the need to extend civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples.
Khan says that should Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld lose their appeal for the right to a civil partnership at the High Court he will take the fight forwards by speaking to the government.
This pledge was made in a letter sent to Green Party Member of the London Assembly Caroline Russell. Last November Russell proposed a motion, along with Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, calling on the London Assembly to back the aims of the campaign for equal civil partnerships. The motion was passed unanimously.
In his letter, the Mayor says:
“I recognise that there are many reasons why some people might not want to enter into a traditional marriage and agree that everyone should have the right to express their relationship in a loving union that works for them. I will express my support for the introduction of Equal Civil Partnerships to the government, should the Court of Appeal reject [the] couple’s application to form a civil partnership. All couples, regardless of sexual orientation, should be equal before the law.”
The Equal Civil Partnerships will be writing to Mr Khan to thank him for his support and to request a meeting to discuss how together the campaign can be taken forwards.