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January 29, 2016

High Court rules civil partnership discrimination is justified while MPs call on the government to open civil partnerships to all

High Court rules civil partnership discrimination is justified while MPs call on the government to open civil partnerships to all

10.30am, Friday 29th January 2016

A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Andrews DBE, rules today that the government’s discrimination against opposite-sex couples’ access to civil partnerships is justified, while MPs from across the political spectrum call for civil partnerships to be extended to opposite-sex couples. Currently civil partnerships are only open to same-sex couples.

What? On 19th and 20th January 2016, Mrs Justice Andrews DBE heard a Judicial Review claim in the High Court that was brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. They argued that the Civil Partnership Act 2004, which restricts civil partnerships to same-sex couples, is incompatible with Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everyone should be treated equally by law, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. Today, the judge ruled that the difference in treatment does not fall within the ambit of Article 8, read together with Article 14, but even if it did then maintaining that difference is justified.

However, Mrs Justice Andrews also acknowledged that there will be many people who sympathise with the Claimants’ point of view “that it is unfair that a route to state recognition of their relationship which is open to a same-sex couple…remains unavailable to them because they are heterosexual.”

She also noted that “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.” And she said, “The denial of a further means of formal recognition which is open to same-sex couples, does not amount to unlawful state interference with the Claimants’ right to family life or private life, any more than the denial of marriage to same-sex couples did prior to the enactment of the 2013 Act.” In other words, according to the judge, same-sex couples’ exclusion from marriage before 2013 was lawful just as opposite-sex couples’ exclusion from civil partnership is today in 2016.

Also today, a Ten Minute Rule Bill (a type of Private Member’s Bill) calling for a minor amendment to the Civil Partnership Act to remove the clause limiting civil partnerships to same-sex couples has its second reading in the House of Commons.

Where? The High Court and the House of Commons.

Who?  New parents Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan brought the case. The couple are represented by solicitor Louise Whitfield of law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers.

Former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP, has a Ten Minute Rule Bill receiving its second reading today. The Bill is backed by a large number of MPs, (including Caroline Lucas, Andy Slaughter and Stephen Twigg), as well as lawyers and academics alongside over 36,000 supporters, all of whom are calling on the government to extend civil partnerships to all couples.

Rebecca Steinfeld said:

“We made this claim because the UK Government is barring us, and many thousands of opposite-sex couples like us, from the choice of forming a civil partnership, and we want this to change. Personally, we wish to form a civil partnership because that captures the essence of our relationship and values. Civil partnerships are a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, but without its history and social expectations. We don’t think there is sufficient justification for stopping us or other opposite-sex couples from forming civil partnerships. Unfortunately, the judge has concluded otherwise. We are seeking permission to appeal her decision on behalf of ourselves and the more than 36,000 people who signed our petition on Change.org calling for civil partnership equality.”

Charles Keidan said:

We believe that opening civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples would complete the circle of full relationship equality that began with the hard-won victory for same-sex marriage.  We campaigned for equal marriage and believe that the significance and symbolism of opening marriage to same-sex couples cannot be overstated. Regrettably, the courts have so far been unable to compel the government to open civil partnerships to all, so it’s now time for Parliament to demonstrate its commitment to creating a level playing field for all its citizens by extending civil partnerships to same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike.”

Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn, the solicitor representing Charles and Rebecca, said:

“It is clear that there is unjustified discrimination here in what the judge acknowledged was an important case, but she has set the bar too high in terms of whether the issue falls within the ambit of Article 8, the right to protection of private and family life. Moreover, the Government’s arguments to justify that discrimination on the basis of cost are fundamentally flawed, as this cannot be a “legitimate aim” in these circumstances.  We are therefore advising our clients on the matter of an appeal.”

Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law at King’s College London, who has advised the couple, said:

“It is very disappointing that the High Court was not persuaded to make a declaration of incompatibility, despite the obvious sexual orientation discrimination in the Civil Partnership Act 2004.  Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan will now have to consider whether to take their case to the England and Wales Court of Appeal, or the European Court of Human Rights.”

Tim Loughton (Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham) said:

“This is not the result we were hoping for, but it is by no means the end of the fight. I am sure Charles and Rebecca will continue to campaign for this glaring inequality in the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 to be corrected. My Private Members’ Bill is yet to receive its Second Reading, so there is still opportunity to bring this issue to the attention of MPs, ministers and the wider public and marshal the growing support. This is not an issue that is going to go away”.

Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner, 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 opposite-sex couples are not entitled to the same choices as same-sex ones. It cannot be right that same-sex couples have two options, civil partnerships and civil marriages; 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 and that justice will prevail in the end.”

Ava Lee, Campaign Manager of the Equal Civil Partnership campaign, said:

“We are disappointed by the judgment from the High Court today, however our campaign for equal civil partnerships will continue. While the judge found that the Civil Partnership Act is not incompatible with equality legislation, her judgment does not change the fact that there are thousands of couples around the country who do not want to get married but are deeply concerned about the precarious legal and financial position that this decision leaves them in. Civil partnerships are an institution that already exists, and offer the same legal protections afforded to married couples to those couples who feel that marriage is not for them. 

Over 36,000 people have written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, asking her to open up civil partnerships. We hope that following the judicial review, the government will reconsider its position on civil partnerships and offer the 3 million cohabiting couples in the UK an additional option for celebrating and cementing their relationships, and provide their 1.9 million dependent children with the same level of security offered to the children of married parents.”

The Campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships was launched by members of the public adversely affected by the current legislation. For more information, please visit equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk or email media@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk to arrange interviews with couples calling for equal civil partnerships.

January 4, 2016

EVENT AT THE HOUSE OF COMMONS – Extending Civil Partnerships to Different Sex Couples

Tim Loughton MP and Andy Slaughter MP invite you to

Extending Civil Partnerships to Different Sex Couples: An Opportunity to Increase Protection for Children and Families and Further Equality

13 January 2016

 

What? Senior lawyers, campaigners, academics and policy experts will explore opening up civil partnerships to different-sex couples. The panel discussion will cover the legal issues faced by couples and their families as a result of the lack of protections currently afforded to unmarried couples, the current policy on civil partnerships (which does not allow different-sex couples to enter into them), and will provide an opportunity to meet a number of couples who have been affected by the current legislation.

 

Where? Committee Room 20, The House of Commons.

 

When? 2.30-4pm, Wednesday 13th January 2016.

 

Who? A panel discussion with:

Alison Green, Partner at Mackrell Turner Garrett, Head of Divorce and Family Group;

Tim Loughton MP, former Children’s Minister;

Andy Slaughter MP, Shadow Human Rights Minister;

Professor Robert Wintemute, Kings College London;

and a number of couples affected by the current policy on civil partnerships.

 

For more information on the campaign calling for Equal Civil Partnerships, Tim Loughton’s Ten Minute Rule Bill (which has its second hearing on the 29 January), and a legal challenge which is also in train, see: www.equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk

 

Please RSVP to info@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk, so we can ensure we have adequate catering.

 

January 4, 2016

2015 Roundup & 2016 Coming Up

Happy new year! And wow what a year 2015 has been for the legal case and campaign for equal civil partnerships!

On the legal side, our case was granted permission to proceed to a full hearing, as well as a protective costs order because the judge deemed it in the public interest. On the campaign side, we built a dedicated campaign group, including education journalist Fiona Millar, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and human rights law professor Robert Wintemute. Thanks to generous support, we also hired a campaign manager, the lovely and smart Ava Lee, and together we launched the #EqualCivilPartnerships campaign website:http://equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk/. Members of the campaign group and supporters gave interviews on BBC radio and TV, ITV and for The Observer Magazine, and we wrote op-eds for and published letters in The Guardian, The Independent, The Scottish Herald and Pink News, amongst others. Finally and most importantly, you, our supporters, generously contributed almost £15,000 in donations to our legal effort through GoFundMe. You also shared with us your moving and inspiring stories about your reasons for wanting the choice of a civil partnership. These reminded us why this issue is so important to so many of you and spurred us on during the especially challenging times (and there were a few of these when we were sleep-deprived with our newborn baby Eden).

Now January 2016 is here and it is set to be the most important month yet: The legal hearing is scheduled to take place on January 19 and 20, and our outstanding legal team – Louise Whitfield of Deighton Pierce Glynn, who is one of the leading solicitors in the field of human rights law, and Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers, who is the UK’s top equalities barrister – are hard at work preparing the arguments. Before that though, on January 13, there will be an event in Parliament, hosted by our constituency MP Andy Slaughter and the former Minister for Families and Children, Tim Loughton MP, who has proposed an amendment to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to remove the clause limiting civil partnerships to same-sex couples only. The event will include a panel discussion with senior lawyers, campaigners, academics and policy experts, who will explore opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Please write to hello@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk if you’d like to attend. And then, after the hearing, on January 29, we will have the second reading of Tim Loughton’s Ten-Minute Rule Bill, which you should be able to watch on BBC Parliament.

There’s so much going on, and who knows how we’re going to get it all done with our seven-month old in tow!!!

We are also concerned about costs. We have contributed £6,500 from our own savings, but are still £9,000 short of covering our legal costs. We’ve come so far but this is a challenging amount so anything you are able to give is greatly appreciated. Please encourage your friends, family and others who support the effort to do the same. All amounts, however big or small, are gratefully received:http://gofundme.com/civilpartnerships

We will be in touch with another update soon but, in the meantime, thank you for your ongoing support and wishing you all the very best for 2016.

Charles & Rebecca

October 29, 2015

Success! Ten Minute Rule Bill goes through to second reading

A Ten Minute Rule Bill (a type of Private Member’s Bill) calling for a very small amendment to the Civil Partnership Act, simply to remove the clause that limits civil partnerships to same-sex couples, went through to its second reading completely unopposed. Tim Loughton MP, who tabled the Bill, said:

“Opposite-sex couples who do not want to go down the formal marriage route are completely unrecognised in the eyes of the state. With 3 million cohabiting opposite-sex couples in the UK, and 40% of them having children, this is a large body of people and they have few protections if things go wrong, let alone tax advantages rightly now available to same-sex couples who can choose between marriage and civil partnership. Many cohabiting couples are living under the complete misconception that they are protected by ‘common law marriage,’ which does not formally exist. At a time when we want to do everything to encourage family stability particularly to help foster strong childhoods it is absurd that the state has no way of recognising and celebrating these relationships. It is high time we recognised equal civil partnerships to give greater security to millions of our citizens.”

The Bill will have its second reading on 29 January 2016, and received cross-party support from:

Graham Brady MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Greg Mulholland MP, Geoffrey Robinson MP, Sir Roger Gale MP, Stephen Twigg MP, Anne Main MP, Sir Keir Starmer MP, Pauline Latham MP, and Mark Durkan MP, amongst others.

You can watch Tim presenting his Bill on BBC Parliament, here.

October 6, 2015

Forced to “choose” marriage? Why can’t different sex couples choose civil partnerships?

We loved this blog from one of our supporters in Scotland, Shelagh Young. You can check out her other blogs here:

“Helen Lewis, writing in the Guardian this week, explained why feminists have to keep on fighting for hard won rights. We also need to fight for new ones such as the right to legal recognition of different sex partnerships on equal terms to same sex couples.

This matters because marriage is still not treated as a union of equals.  My partner and I celebrated our 10th unwedded anniversary over 20 years ago. I had decided long before then that marriage was not for me. There were no civil partnerships back in 1994 so I viewed marriage as an incorrigibly discriminatory institution. Worse still, I came of age in an era when the law did not even accept that there could be such a crime as rape if the rapist was a woman’s husband. For me marriage was a shocking anachronism linked far too closely to the days when married women loved, obeyed and seemed to enjoy fewer legal rights than the family dog.

So, it is disappointing to learn from the preamble to the current Scottish Government consultation on civil partnerships that our ministers are “not persuaded” to extend the right to get hitched the modern way to different-sex couples. That denies us equality under the law and leaves only the option of marriage, that weird, outmoded vehicle dragging its load of misogynistic clutter off to the nearest honeymoon suite.

I know what I’m talking about because, although my partner felt just the same as me, reader, I married him. My excuse? A social worker made me do it.  We were trying to adopt children and adoption social workers, it seems, are a pretty conventional bunch. Filled with fear of being discriminated against for being a happy, stable, unmarried couple we capitulated a few weeks before the adoption panel met and summoned a few friends to witness the demise of our principles. We clung on for longer than most – but from the day an adoption agency told us that they used to have the “luxury of only dealing with married couples” we knew our options were narrowing.

I dare say adoption social workers have moved on a bit since then but the option of a civil partnership still matters because all the cultural marriage baggage has not yet been jilted at the altar. The law has changed but attitudes move more slowly. While barely anyone registers distress at the knowledge that couples, of any type, are NOT married or in a civil partnership, we reluctant hetero brides still face relentless battery by other people’s ideas of what marriage must entail. From the double-barrelled last name, foisted on me by folk who cannot quite accept that I intend to keep my birth name forever to the puzzled faces when I correct Mrs to Ms, I am never allowed to forget that marriage is riven with gendered expectations. It is the 21st century and yet, last summer, my bank changed my title from Ms to Mrs without even asking me. When I remonstrated a young sounding bloke decided to tell me it was my “proper” title.

Marriage isn’t the iniquitous misogynistic institution it once was but it isn’t far off it. If I didn’t hate bureaucracy more than I dislike being married I’d be divorced by now. So how about it Scottish Government? Put your fine words on equality into action and grant people like me the right to tie up the legal loose ends of coupledom in a form better suited to the 21st century. Make civil partnerships available to all.

To sign a petition requesting civil partnerships for all go here, and to find out more on the Scottish Government consultation go here.”

October 5, 2015

We need your help!

Dear Supporter,

 

We are writing to ask for your help. A Private Member’s Bill has been tabled for 21 October, calling for a very simple amendment to the Civil Partnership Act: simply to remove the clause that limits civil partnerships to same-sex couples. This would have the same outcome as Charles and Rebecca are seeking with their judicial review, giving opposite-sex couples the right to civil partnerships, promoting equality, and ending this strange anomaly in the law.

 

The Bill needs cross-party support – and this is where you come in. We need you to speak to your MP: if you can, go and see them in their constituency surgery, or email or write to them, telling them why making civil partnerships equal is important to you. We really need you to convince them why this is an important issue for you, as their constituent, and why they therefore need to sign up to the Bill and support it on 21 October.

 

We have created a template letter (which you can send for free here), but the more you can personalise it the better. We’ve also created a one page resource sheet, here, which contains all of the facts and figures you might want to use if you can go and speak to your MP face-to-face. You can find out who your MP is and how to contact them simply by typing your postcode here.

 

We’ll be at the House of Commons on the 21st of October (the Bill will receive its hearing at some point between 12.30-3.30pm), and you are really welcome to join us as we watch the Bill unfold – we’d love to meet you. Just drop us an email at hello@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk so we know how much tea and cake to get in!

 

Many thanks,

 

The ECP team x

 

PS – it would be really helpful if you could let us know if you contact your MP, who they are, and how they respond. And if you want any help or further information, just drop us an email at hello@equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk. Thanks! x

 

October 2, 2015

The Herald – Different-sex couples should also be eligible for civil partnerships

“Everyone in Scotland who would like to be able to choose between a marriage and a civil partnership, should respond to the Scottish Government’s “Review of civil partnership”, launched on 22 September.  The consultation gives us all an opportunity to persuade the Scottish Government to change its mind about opposing different-sex civil partnerships; recognising that the existing law discriminates directly on the basis of sexual orientation (contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998).  It is a simple matter of equality to extend civil partnership to different-sex couples.

A lot of public money was spent on setting up civil partnership.  It would be wasteful to abolish a public institution, which some same-sex couples would like to retain, and which a significant minority of different-sex couples would like to join.  These different-sex couples do not wish to marry.  As long as they are excluded from civil partnership, they and their children may suffer from their not having a registered relationship.

The cost of extension should be minimal, because all of the necessary procedures already exist.  Any increase in survivor’s pension benefits would be the same as if the newly civilly partnered couples had chosen to marry.

A campaign calling for equal civil partnerships is underway in England and Wales: a Private Member’s Bill will be debated in the House of Commons on 21 October, and a judicial review under the Human Rights Act will be heard by the High Court in January (equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk). We, the steering group and supporters of the campaign for equal civil partnerships, based on both sides of the border, want to see all couples in the UK afforded the same rights to civil partnerships – regardless of sex, sexuality, or location, and need support from across the UK to make that a reality.

In addition to responding to the consultation, explaining why equal civil partnerships are important to you personally, as many people as possible should contact their MSPs and MPs and ask them to end this bizarre anomaly of two choices for same-sex couples, one for different-sex couples.  In every other equal marriage country in Europe, all couples have the same choices.”

 

Lee Chalmers, Director, The Parliament Project and Feminist Researcher

Charles Keidan

Martin Loat, CEO, Propeller PR

Fiona Millar, Journalist and Education Campaigner

Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld, Political Scientist and BBC New Generation Thinker

Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner

Robert Wintemute, Professor of Human Rights Law, King’s College London

Shelagh Young, Chair, The Phone Co-Op

 

September 4, 2015

Judicial Review date announced

We are really pleased to be able to tell you that the High Court have decided on a date for Charles and Rebecca’s Judicial Review – it’s going to take place on 19 and 20 January 2016. The Court has allocated two full days and a senior judge to the case, and the hearing is open to the public – so put it in your diaries and come and witness some history in the making (fingers crossed)!

In addition to supporting Charles and Rebecca’s legal team build their case, we have also been busy working on the inside with key decision makers who have the power to make the change we are seeking. A Ten Minute Rule Bill has been tabled for 21 October 2015 by Tim Loughton MP, calling for a very simple amendment to the Civil Partnership Act – solely to remove the sentence that limits civil partnerships to same-sex couples – and we are having meetings with a number of supportive MPs from across the parties to rally behind the Bill. As we get closer to 21 October, we’ll be asking all of our supporters to write to and Tweet your MPs to ask them to attend and support the Bill, so make sure you’re following us on Twitter and Facebook to stay in the loop.

If you haven’t yet, please don’t forget to share Charles and Rebecca’s change.org petition with your friends and family – it only takes a minute and the more signatures we get the easier it is for us to convince MPs that this is an issue they need to get behind…

The ECP Team x

August 6, 2015

The Sunday Times – Marriage of Equals

23 July 2015

We were really pleased to read ‘Unmarried couples: it’s make your mind up time, before a law does it for you.’ As the steering group of the campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships, we are all too aware of the pitfalls that cohabitating couples can face, and like Jenny McCartney, we see absolutely no reason why heterosexual couples should be denied civil partnerships. That’s why we’re calling on the government to extend the right to civil partnerships to all couples, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. A Private Members Bill calling for an amendment to the current legislation (which prohibits opposite-sex couples from accessing civil partnerships) is scheduled for 21 October, and a Judicial Review will also be taking place this autumn.

While Baron Marks of Henley-on-Thames’s Cohabitation Bill would give long-term co-habiting couples a number of limited rights automatically, civil partnerships would offer (for those couples who want it) a modern social institution conferring almost identical legal rights as marriage, but without its historical baggage, often out-dated gender roles and social expectations.

Simply extending the right to civil partnerships to all couples would give many families, including some of ours, greater security and stability and put an end to this strange anomaly in the law which is currently undermining equality in the UK.

 

Charles Keidan

Martin Loat

Fiona Millar

Gemma Mortensen

Dr. Rebecca Steinfeld

Peter Tatchell

Professor Robert Wintemute

July 30, 2015

The Equality Network advocate for equal civil partnerships

The Equality Network’s new Scottish LGBT Equality Report recommends “the Scottish Government should resolve outstanding partnership equality issues including the ban on mixed-sex civil partnership and the need to allow couples in non-Scottish civil partnerships to convert their civil partnership to marriage if they wish to do so.” We couldn’t agree more!

We’re thrilled the Equality Network supports equal civil partnerships – see here for more information about why they believe civil partnerships should be open to all, and check out the full report for the most comprehensive research to date into LGBT people’s experiences of inequality in Scotland.