Landmark Supreme Court ruling may open civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples

Neil Acheson-Gray

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in June has the potential to transform the legal recognition of opposite-sex relationships.

The ruling came at the end of a protracted legal battle by academics, Rebbecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan.

The couple argued that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with articles eight and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights because it only extends civil partnership rights to same-sex couples.

They say that while they wish to formalise their relationship and enjoy the legal rights that entails, they have fundamental objections to the institution of marriage and would like to opt for a civil partnership. They say civil partnerships lack the particular cultural meanings to which they object whilst offering equivalent legal protection.

Their claim had been refused by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal in recent years.

The Supreme Court, however, found that the Government should have equalised access to civil partnerships – either by abolishing them altogether or by extending them to opposite-sex couples – when the Marriage (same sex couples) Act was passed in 2013.

The Court’s decision does not compel the Government to pursue any particular course of action and it remains to be seen whether it will open civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.

Neil Acheson-Gray, a Partner at Carter Lemon Camerons LLP, said: “I have long advocated the availability of civil partnerships to everyone and anyone who wishes to affirm their relationship without invoking the institution of marriage.

“There seems no logic in not allowing individuals who are committed to each other to enjoy the benefit of tax exemptions which extend to a  spouse and which currently also extend to a civil partnership between same-sex couples.

“The alternative of abolishing civil partnerships altogether because marriage is available to all is retrograde and would force upon those who wish to acknowledge that they are in a close relationship an institution with which they may not be associated.

“Let us express the hope that this government will not be slow to recognise the need for change and that the anomaly will fast be removed so that all will be treated equally under fiscal legislation both for IHT and CGT.”