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Family Law cases to watch 2018: Steinfield & Keidan v Secretary of State for Education

A heterosexual couple who wish to enter a civil partnership instead of getting married will take their case to the Supreme Court this year.

Civil Partnerships for Heterosexual Couples?

In 2017, the Court of Appeal refused the appeal of Steinfield and Keidan, who had sought a judicial review in relation to whether heterosexual couples were allowed to enter into a civil partnership.  Civil partnerships came into law for same sex couples in 2005.

They argue that the current law is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. The UK has a legal mechanism that provides same sex couples with the similar rights as a married couple, without having to enter into a marriage as civil partners; however this is not available to heterosexual couples. Same sex couples now have the choice of either marriage or a civil partnership.

As a heterosexual couple, uncomfortable with the notion of marriage, this leaves them without the ability to enter into a civil partnership to safeguard their future financial and legal positions, resulting in limited, if any, legal protection in the event of relationship breakdown.

The Court of Appeal, whilst agreeing that there is to some extent a violation of the appellants’ human rights, held that this is currently justified by the Secretary of State’s policy of ‘wait and evaluate’. The majority agreed it is both proportional and lawful to allow the Secretary of State further time to undertake a proper assessment on the correct way forward when considering possible changes to the current law.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court in spring. It is understood that the legal claim will focus on whether the current restriction on civil partnerships to same sex couples is compatible with Article 14 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everyone should be treated equally regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

Is there a social need to change the current mechanism and allow heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships?

A Supreme Court decision in favour of extending the right of civil partnership to heterosexual couples would be a move towards equality and in line with current social trends.

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