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Isle of Man leads the way with equal rights to civil partnerships

Through the Marriage and Civil Partnership Amendment Act 2016, the Manx Parliament has ensured all couples can choose between marriage or civil…

By virtue of the Marriage and Civil Partnership Amendment Act 2016, which came into force in July, the Manx Parliament has ensured all couples - heterosexual and same sex - can choose whether marriage or civil partnership is right for them. This reform has leap-frogged the current position in England and Wales by opening up access to both institutions for all couples.

By legalising same sex marriage, the Isle of Man has caught up with England and Wales, where the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 enabled same sex couples to be legally married for the first time in history from 2014. Same sex couples on the Island have had the opportunity of entering into a civil partnership since 2011.

However this recent reform has gone one step further in allowing heterosexual couples in the Isle of Man to enter into civil partnerships should they so choose. Presently, heterosexual couples in England and Wales are not eligible for civil partnership.

This new Manx legislation may therefore impose some pressure on the government for the same options to be extended in England and Wales, and it is entirely possible that some opposite sex couples will consider travelling from the mainland to the Isle of Man to enter into a civil partnership.

There remains some doubt as to whether the UK government will recognise those civil partnerships as valid or not, and it is envisaged that the courts and the government will be forced to face up to this grey area before too long, not least in the event of the breakdown of such relationships.

Readers may recall a recent high profile legal challenge brought by a opposite sex couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who wished to enter into a civil partnership as they were opposed, in principle, to the institution of marriage. Having been refused a civil partnership as they were not, in accordance with the legislation, “two people of the same sex”, they applied to the High Court for judicial review, on the basis that the law was discriminatory to heterosexual couples, and that it violated their human right to family life. That application was refused, although the couple have since been given permission to appeal as the judge considered that the case raised issues “of wider importance”.

The Government remains undecided on how to deal with civil partnerships, preferring to wait and see how the introduction of same sex marriage impacts on the uptake of civil partnerships, considering it may be too costly and complex to extend them in light of possible abolition in the future, should same sex couples choose marriage instead.

With the appeal pending, and the developments in the Isle of Man, it seems that the Government will be forced to re-address this issue in the near future. It is interesting that for the first time in history, the legal options available to same sex couples to regulate their relationships are more extensive than those available to opposite sex couples.