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May 29, 2019

Beyond Marriage: Rebecca Steinfeld

Text of Rebecca Steinfeld’s talk at Beyond Marriage Conference, Cambridge 24th-25th May 2019.

Introductions

Thank you to Clare Chambers and all her colleagues at the University of Cambridge for organising this conference, and inviting me to share my experiences of campaigning for a change in the law to open civil partnerships to all.

Together with my long-term partner Charlie Keidan, I’ve been involved in the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign for several years – but today I’m speaking in a personal capacity.

So over the next 30 minutes, I want to share a few of my own reflections.

My talk is split into four parts:

  1. To briefly explain our motivations – essentially why we wanted a CP – and how and why these driving motivations evolved over time
  2. To outline the process of taking the Government to court on this issue
  3. To explain how the campaign developed, and how it worked with Tim Loughton
  4. To share the lessons I took from these experiences, and why I hope that civil partnership reform will pave the way for much broader reforms in relationship recognition

In the Q&A, please don’t ask me when and how Charlie and me will actually finally celebrate our civil partnership. Because, after four years, four Equalities Ministers, three court cases, two children and with me now working two jobs, quite frankly we’re too exhausted to organise anything.

Motivations:

  • At beginning it was feminism. We are partners in life and wanted to be partners in law too. We wanted to formalise our relationship free from the baggage of marriage with its problematic gendered symbols, associations and traditions. Civil partnerships existed – there was no need to create anything new, just open them to all.
  • After we had children, we wanted to reflect that relationship of equals to our children, but also pragmatically we wanted more financial protection for their benefit, in case we were to separate or one of us died 
  • The shift in our personal motivations coincided with a strategic shift in the messaging and language of the campaign: at the beginning, we were child-free and more idealistic, but became more pragmatic after we had children and saw the need to be disciplined in order to build the largest possible coalition in favour of change
  • On a personal level, I should say that the label ‘civil partnership’ is aspirational rather than descriptive – my relationship with Charlie faces the same financial and emotional pressures as many working parents with small children, with its ups and downs. We try our best to be civil partners, but we’re don’t always succeed
  • I also don’t want to suggest that marriage is not an evolving and dynamic institution – far from it – and I fully support those reforming marriage
  • However, we wanted the relative blank slate that a civil partnership offered

Legal process:

  • We walked into Chelsea Register office in October 2014 to give notice to form a CP. The Registrar asked us if we were different-sex, and when we confirmed we were of different-sex, she said we couldn’t have one
  • This was a course of action suggested by Prof Rob Wintemute – to whom Peter Tatchell had introduced us – as a necessary prelude to challenge the existing law in domestic courts
  • This was not an untrodden path. Some of you will have heard of the Equal Love campaign and the Ferguson and others v. UK case taken to the ECtHR. When we became engaged to become civil partners, this case was going through the courts and we were optimistic it would be heard and the judges in Strasbourg would rule that the situation in the UK was unlawful. Sadly that wasn’t to be: The case was dismissed
  • So back to square one which meant a case to be brought before the domestic courts
  • The basis of the case: Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998 incompatible with Civil Partnerships Act (CPA) 2004 because HRA assures right to private and family life (article 8) and non-discrimination (article 14) in relation to other rights, and CPA only allowed same-sex couples to form civil partnerships
  • We had an all-star feminist legal team: Louise Whitfield (DPG), Karon Monaghan and Sarah Hannett (Matrix Chambers)
  • Our families were ambivalent despite their legal backgrounds – because of cost, risk aversion, small ‘c’ conservatism and reputational concerns
  • There were three stages, which brought us closer to winning each time, but it was an opaque, exhausting, stressful, drawn-out process with numerous setbacks
  • (1) High Court 2015 we lost on all grounds – but granted an immediate appeal because the  case was in the public interest
  • (2) Court of Appeal 2017 we lost narrowly 2:1, but it was a major advance because the lead judge agreed with us, and all the judges agreed that we were within ambit, i.e. this issue was deemed to affect our right to private and family life. The Government accepted that. It became a watermark for other legal cases.
  • (3) Supreme Court 2018: We won unanimously 5:0 and were given declaration of incompatibility
  • Then what? There were three ways to equalise: up (open to all), down (abolish), phase out/grandfather
  • We’d always known that the legal case would have its limits – the separation of powers means judges, rightly, cannot legislate, so the legal case was essential but not sufficient.
  • That is why from the outset we’d set up a public and increasingly politically-focused campaign to work alongside the legal case. After the Supreme Court ruling, the campaign superseded the legal case.

Political campaign:

  • Origins: People heard us on Woman’s Hour in December 2014, contacted us and offered to help. Charlie had the foresight to form what he called a ‘kitchen cabinet,’ which soon became a steering group and then campaign team
  • This included figures such as Martin Loat (who with his partner, Claire, went to the Isle of Man to form a CP to add weight to the campaign and is now leading the campaign), Fiona Millar, architect Elsie Owusu, as well as Peter Tatchell and Rob Wintemute
  • The Change.org petition – 145k signatures –created a community of people who could take action, lobby and donate, plus it showed public support & how people were personally effected
  • By creating this community and building on the media coverage generated by legal case, we were able to raise funds on Gofundme and Crowdjustice fundraising pages for both the case and campaign. We also secured foundation backing for our strategic litigation without which we would not have been able to take the cases because the costs risks were too huge for us to bear solo.
  • The campaign organised polling showing the public support (3:1 supported extension)
  • First few years: various campaign managers worked with the steering group. Then political strategist Ben Rich came on board. He counselled that we should have as broad a tent as possible to build cross-party support and to persuade the government. He advised identifying parliamentary champion, ideally a Conservative politician who we could work alongside and support as they took legislation through Parliament
  • Enter Tim Loughton!  A Tory MP and as a former Minister for Children and Families he had a long track record of commitment to pursuing this issue since 2013. He seemed the ideal champion…
  • BUT – in the initial period, there were some deliberations about how best to work with Conservatives as the campaign had a left-leaning tint and because Tim Loughton’s attempt to amend the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 to extend CPs was interpreted by some as a stance against same-sex marriage – something Charlie and I campaigned for in our own (Jewish) community
  • But over time, we saw Tim’s sincere commitment to this issue, and we formed an effective working relationship with him. And it’s been an unexpected pleasure working together. I even let him hold my baby!
  • As fate would have it, Tim came in at number 5 in the PMB ballot, the highest Tory in the ballot – and the rest is history – though he’ll tell you more about the ins and outs of that legislative process from that point on – for us, it was a rollercoaster!  
  • Theresa May announced Government support for opening CPs in Oct 2018, just four months after the Supreme Court ruling
  • The Bill cleared Parliament on 15th March 2019
  • Though we still need secondary legislation to introduce precise arrangements around things like conversion and recognition of overseas CPs, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 mandates that mixed-sex civil partnerships will be available by 31st December 2019. So we are very nearly there!

Three main lessons learned:

  1. Recognise the importance of litigation: It is impossible to say what would have happened without our legal effort, and who knows what will happen to the institution of CPs over time. What we can say is that the legal case generated media interest beyond what we could have imagined, news hooks to hang personal stories, ventilate the issues, raise public awareness and generate support. The disadvantages were that is was personally demanding, an opaque procedure, prohibitive costs, and it could only take us so far
  2. Be prepared to make trade-offs: The need to moderate campaign messages (from equality, human rights, feminism to “popular, fair, good for families”), and to form unexpected alliances (radical feminists and backbench Tory MPs), meant the process has not been without its challenges. I must say though that it was powerful and somewhat surreal to see a raft of Tory MPs speaking in favour of what I originally envisaged as a radical feminist policy change during the Bill’s last debate in the House of Commons. So those trade-offs swing both ways!
  3. Recognise the limits of what you can achieve, but also its potential: Ignore nasty comments but learn from legitimate criticism and consider how you or other can address it in the future. In our case, one criticism we encountered was that reforming civil partnerships did not go far enough in addressing the vulnerable situation of cohabitees, or in challenging the unequal status between couples and other relationship arrangements (such as between siblings and polyamorous groupings). I acknowledge those limitations. But at the same time, my own view and hope – and I can speak for Charlie too – is that by reforming civil partnerships, we have continued and widened the conversation about whose relationship gets to be recognised and why, and about the need for social policy to keep up with modern and evolving family life. I hope that opening civil partnerships to all is just the beginning of the conversation, and not the end.

Other lessons learned:

  • Identify a clear and realistically attainable objective: This was amending one law to open one social institution to all – not reforming marriage and cohabitation law and policy per se. The disadvantages of this were that we had to be careful how we presented our case and some argued we did something entirely un-radical. For example, we never said we were against marriage and some argue that extending CPs was a very conservative thing because it celebrates state sanctioned couple relationships rather than new forms.
  • Role of strategy: Thanks to a professional campaign structure, things got more strategic over time. It’s useful to research who else is working on this issue and how can you add to what they’re doing. Determine whether you need top down or bottom up change. Identify the policymaker with power to change. Identify potential allies
  • Build a community: Use online platforms to share your and others’ personal stories, engage supporters by asking them for non-monetary contributions (sending postcards to MPs, share photos explaining motivations)
  • Fundraise: We used crowdfunding, Crowdjustice and philanthropic foundations (which underwrote Government costs when we lost)
  • Persist and prepare yourself for the long haul: Even changing three words has taken five years, four equalities ministers, two children… It’s a long, drawn-out, rollercoaster of an experience. Sacrifices to work and family life have to be made, so don’t take on something like this lightly!

April 30, 2019

Letter to Registrar General

Equal Civil Partnerships Chair, Martin Loat, has written to the Registrar General asking for clarity and guidance for supporters in registering mixed-sex civil partnerships.

“I am writing as the chair of the Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships.

“You will be aware that the Civil Partnerships, Marriages & Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act has received Royal Assent. It requires that civil partnerships be made available to mixed-sex as well as same-sex couples no later than 31st December 2019.

“Ministers have confirmed that the first mixed-sex civil partnerships must take place before the end of this year.

“As you can imagine, with over 3 million unmarried mixed-sex couples in the UK, there is widespread public interest in this change and we understand from our thousands of supporters that many have been in touch with local Register Offices to book dates. However, they have received inconsistent answers to their enquiries. Some offices have
accepted bookings for early 2020, while others who have refused even to consider applications for the moment and others have equivocated.

” I am therefore writing to you to ask:
• What guidance you have, or intend, to issue on this matter to ensure a consistent approach across England and Wales?
• How will you ensure that the Government’s commitment to enable the first mixed-sex civil partnerships to take place by the end of 2019 is met?
• Will you instruct local Register offices to accept bookings now for 31st December 2019 onwards, in compliance with legislation?
• What provision, if any, will there be for “fast-tracking” or waiving notice periods in special cases?

“This is not just a technical matter. We are aware of at least one couple who have been together for thirty years, one of whom has terminal cancer. Understandably they are very anxious to be able to have a civil partnership to make their union legal as soon as possible. Time is of the essence in cases such as this.

“We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your guidance and to ensure clarity to the many thousands who have a direct interest in this.”

March 27, 2019

Royal Assent Received

On Tuesday 26 March 2019 the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill received Royal Assent. It is now an Act of Parliament i.e. Law.

March 15, 2019

Thousands of couples may have mixed-sex civil partnerships by end of this year #ADateToCelebrate

Whilst other partnerships have been under intense debate in Parliament over the last few days, mixed-sex civil partnerships end the week on a triumphal high. The Private Members Bill, brought by Tim Loughton MP, received final Parliamentary approval in the House of Commons today. It will now become law – permitting the first mixed-sex civil partnerships in England and Wales by the end of the year.

Martin Loat, Chair of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, commented, “We have battled long and hard to achieve this victory. We congratulate Tim Loughton MP for his determined and skilled championing of this Private Members Bill through Parliament. The Government now plans a consultation to assess just how equal civil partnerships for all are going to work. The Equal Civil Partnership campaign will play a full part in this and will continue to speak up for our supporters.”

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have played a vital part in the campaign, taking the Government through the courts with a final win in the Supreme Court in June 2018 which helped to secure the safe passage of the Bill through parliament. They commented, “We are relieved that the Government finally listened to the Supreme Court and to the thousands of other couples like us who want the option of forming a civil partnership. We’re delighted that with the passing of today’s Bill, now, finally, we can start to plan our own celebrations. Against the headwinds of Brexit, it is a real tribute to what civic action, political commitment and most of all hard graft over many years can bring about. We thank everyone involved in this team effort.”

The Bill was taken through parliament as a Private Members Bill by Tim Loughton MP in the Commons and Baroness Fiona Hodgson in the Lords. Tim Loughton MP commented, “This has been a long and hard-fought journey, but will be well worth it for the recognition and stability it will provide many thousands of mixed-sex couples. I am grateful to the work done by the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign and all others who have supported us in securing this vitally important piece of legislation.”

His colleague in the House of Lords, Baroness Hodgson added, “It was a privilege to steer this Bill through the Lords. I have had a huge mailbag from people who are desperate to have a civil partnership and I hope it changes many people’s lives for the better.”

With 3.3 million unmarried couples living together in the UK and over 145,000 signatories on a Change.org petition calling for mixed-sex civil partnerships, the ruling is being welcomed on social media with couples delighting in #ADateToCelebrate. Couples like Joanna and Steve from Hebden Bridge who urgently need this new civil partnership law as Steve has terminal prostate cancer and the couple want legal security – without marriage – after thirty years together.

March 14, 2019

#ADateToCelebrate

After a progression through the UK courts – culminating in a unanimous win at the Supreme Court in June 2018, and a two year passage through Parliament, mixed-sex civil partnerships  will finally pass into law on Friday 15th March.

The Civil Partnerships, Marriage and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill brought by Tim Loughton MP will have its final reading at 9.30 on Friday 15th March. It is expected to pass unopposed and with no amendments with Government and cross-party support.

The ECP campaign group are asking supporters to come down to Westminster and gather outside the Supreme Court before 10.45 am to welcome the Tim Loughton MP and key campaigners as they come out of the Houses of Parliament.

Tim Loughton, ECP Campaign Chair, Martin Loat and campaigners Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan will make statements to the supporters and press at 11 am.

The ECP campaign group are also asking supporters to share their celebrations with photos/plans for their own civil partnerships on social media using the hashtag #ADateToCelebrate

March 11, 2019

Bill passes final reading in The Lords

On Friday 8 March Baroness Fiona Hodgson asked that the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill be read for a third time in The Lords. It passed with no further changes and will now proceed back to the House of Commons there for a final reading on Friday 15 March 2019.

March 4, 2019

Bill Passes Report Stage With No Amendments

On Friday March 1st 2019 the Equal Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill passed its Report stage in the House of Lords.

Whilst three amendments had been tabled for the Bill and all three discussed during the Report stage, all three were ultimately withdrawn, allowing the Bill to pass unopposed or amended through to its next and final stage in the Lords, the Third reading.

The Bill will then need to return for a final reading in the House of Commons.

February 28, 2019

Letter from our Chair, Martin Loat, to Lord Hayward

Martin Loat, Chair of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign group, has sent a personal letter to Lord Hayward expressing our concerns about the amendment and asking for its withdrawal.

“We have today noted your introduction of an amendment to the Civil Partnerships,
Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill, being taken through parliament by Tim
Loughton MP and Baroness Fiona Hodgson.

As you know, the ECP campaign group support what you are trying to achieve with same-sex
marriage in Northern Ireland. We believe in equal rights for all and wish you every success
with your aim of changing the law throughout the United Kingdom.

However, we do not believe that this particular Bill is the right vehicle for achieving this.
We believe, sadly, that, should your amendment be included in the revised Bill and pass
through the Lords, it will fail on its return to the Commons. The DUP will not allow the Bill
to pass in this amended form and the Conservative MPs will, therefore, also vote against it.

After having come so close to success, it would be awful if this Bill – which affects so many
lives in real and beneficial ways – were to fall at the final hurdle. Apart from the issue of
equal civil partnerships, the aspects of the Bill which provide for mothers’ names on
marriage certificates and which deal with pregnancy loss and still-birth will make a tangible
difference at these most joyous or the most difficult times of life.

So I’m writing to you – on behalf of our 145,000 declared supporters and literally millions of
other co-habiting couples – to ask you to withdraw your amendment and not jeopardise
mixed-sex couples getting the security and protection of the relationship of their choice.

Such couples include Joanna Christina and Steve Anderson from West Yorkshire who object
to marriage on principle. Steve has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate
cancer and the couple are desperate to formalise their 30-year relationship before time
runs out. Should this bill fail, their chance of achieving this will evaporate.

The campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships would like to see Mr Loughton’s bill passed and as
you are a seasoned campaigner for equal human rights, we know you do too. Please help us
to achieve this.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Loat”

February 26, 2019

New Amendment on Bill – Please help us to ensure Bill is not derailed

Lord Hayward, a committed and principled champion of equal rights, has introduced an amendment to the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill, due to reach its next stage in the Lords on Friday 1 March.  The amendment calls for same-sex marriage to be introduced in Northern Ireland  – a policy which the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign group wholeheartedly endorse as we suspect the vast majority of our supporters also do.

We are huge believers in #equallove, champion equality in all forms and individually members of the group – including Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan – have been vociferous and active in the campaign for same-sex marriage. However,  we are concerned that this Bill is not the place for that particular fight.

While we completely support the intention, were Lord Hayward to succeed in adding this to the Bill, there is no doubt that Conservatives in the Commons would vote it down, as they desperately need the support of the DUP who oppose equal marriage.  So an equal marriage for Northern Ireland amendment would do nothing to further this cause but could well have the unintended consequence of blocking equal civil partnerships, which Lord Hayward supports.

What can you do?

Write to Lord Hayward today at the House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW or email robertahayward11@gmail.com and:

  • Urge him to withdraw his amendment before any vote
  • Express your support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland but ask him to find another means to press the issue

Also, please write to the following asking them to support the Bill without any further amendment:

  • Conservative Whips Office, House of Lords, London, Explain what a difference civil partnerships would make to you
  • SW1A 0PW (holgovernmentwhips@parliament.uk)
  • Labour Whips Office, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW coffmanb@parliament.uk
  • Lib Dem Whips Office, House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW libdemlordswhips@parliament.uk

Do please also contact other peers that you have a connection with or that you know will be attending the debate and ask them to support the Bill with no further amendments.

We only have until Friday 1st March to persuade Lord Hayward not to press his amendment or to ensure he is unsuccessful if he does, so please write today.

The full text of the amendments can be found here

December 20, 2018

Scottish Consultation on Mixed-Sex Civil Partnerships

Whilst the Private Members Bill currently going through Parliament in Westminster will allow mixed-sex civil partnerships in England and Wales, the issue comes under family law and is, therefore, a devolved matter. The Scottish Government is conducting a consultation with public input due to end on Friday 21st December. To ensure compatibility with the Supreme Court ruling in June, the conclusion will be all civil partnership to be allowed or single-sex partnerships to be no longer allowed.

Please do complete and share the consultation on civil partnerships before the end of 21st December.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, on behalf of the #equalcivilpartnerships Campaign Group and all couples looking to enter into a civil partnership, have sent this letter today to The Scotsman Newspaper.

Dear Editor

Like millions of others across the UK, we are a couple who live together, own a house together and have children together but we are not married.

Were we to get married and one of us died or we separated, the law would provide the protection of tax-free inheritance, bereavement benefits or access to children.  But we don’t want to get married as a civil partnership would, for us, offer a appropriate alternative for our family.

So, with the support of the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, the UK Supreme Court ruled unanimously in June that couples like us should have the same alternative of a civil partnership that is available to same sex couples. The judgment said it was unlawful and simply unfair to treat couples differently based on their sexual orientation. 

In October, the Prime Minister announced her intention to extend civil partnerships in England and Wales to all, and legislation is proceeding in Westminster.

Yet in Scotland, the Government is still consulting on how to change the law. Its consultation paper – which closes for comments today [Friday 21st December] – still offers the option of ending civil partnerships altogether, which would be desperately unfair to all those same-sex couples who have or want a civil partnership.  That’s not what we want. We want there to be more choice not less.  

So we strongly urge every Scottish couple in a similar position to ours to respond to the consultation today at https://consult.gov.scot/family-law/the-future-of-civil-partnership-in-scotland/ to tell the Government to extend the right to a civil partnership to all.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to act.

Yours sincerely

Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld