Civil Partnerships for all

28 June, 2018

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of a heterosexual couple to have the right to enter into a civil partnership rather than a marriage.

The Supreme Court ruled that The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights Article 14 (no discrimination) and Article 8 (the right to respect for private life) as it only applies to homosexual couples. 

Currently, heterosexual couples have one option; marriage. Whereas homosexual couples have two options; civil partnerships and civil marriages. A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between homosexual couples; it confers the same rights and responsibilities as marriage.

So why would a heterosexual couple choose a civil partnership over marriage?

The applicants in the case heard by the Supreme Court had genuine ideological objections to marriage based upon what they consider to be its historically patriarchal nature. They consider that a civil partnership reflects their views and gives due recognition to the equal nature of their relationship.

Other couples say that they do not want to take each other as husband and wife and that marriage is a patriarchal system, for example having to put your father’s name and occupation on the marriage certificate but not your mother’s.

Unmarried heterosexual couples describe the current arrangement as grossly unfair as they are denied the legal rights of a civil partnership.

What are the benefits of being in a civil partnership or married?

In 2017, 3.3 million families were cohabiting. Cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as civil partners or married couples.

There are tax perks of marriage and civil partnerships, for example gifts on death to a spouse are exempt from inheritance tax. A deceased spouse or civil partner can pass an estate of any worth to the surviving spouse without immediate tax consequences. There are then further tax reliefs on the surviving spouse/civil partner’s death.

In the event of separation of cohabitees, the primary child carer has no entitlement to receive financial support from their former partner, whereas spouses and civil partners do.

In addition, some organisations do not recognise partners in cohabiting couples as next of kin. A spouse or civil partner will always have authority to act as next of kin.

It should be noted that although the Supreme Court judgment is a step in the right direction, it does not oblige the government to change the law.

Alex Davies, head of the family team, discussed the ruling on the Julia George show on BBC Radio Kent.  You can listen to the recorded version here: If you would like to discuss any of the issues above, or indeed any other aspect of family law, then please contact Alex on  or 01892 506 326 for a free, no obligation telephone call.