Since The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was brought into force, same-sex couples have had the opportunity to formalise their relationships by becoming Civil Partners of one another.
In a Civil Partnership, a couple are afforded with the same rights and responsibilities in property, inheritance, taxes and social security, pensions, maintenance, parental responsibility and next-of-kin arrangements as their heterosexual married equivalent. On break down of the relationship, Civil Partners are also entitled to the same rights as a divorcing couple would be in a similar process referred to as dissolution. In practice, there is extremely little legal difference between a same-sex couple in a Civil Partnership and a heterosexual couple who are married.
Since 2014 same-sex couples have been able to marry, or have their Civil Partnership converted to a marriage with exactly the same status as a heterosexual marriage, following the introduction of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 in Scotland, and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 in England and Wales.
The Civil Partnership Act 2004, which applies to the whole of the United Kingdom is still in force. Same-sex Couples who wish to formalise their relationship therefore have a choice to become either Civil Partners or Spouses of one another. A heterosexual couple though, only have the option to marry.
However, this looks set to change. A heterosexual couple, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, who have a conscientious objection to marriage but still wish to formalise their relationship, have been successful in their legal challenge to these laws. They have done so on the basis that they are not equal to both same-sex and heterosexual couples, and are inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. Having been previously rejected by the English Court of Appeal, their challenge has led them all the way to the Supreme Court. This morning the bench of five Supreme Court Judges, including the President Lady Hale, have handed down their judgment which unanimously declares that the inequality of treatment between such couples is not consistent with the Convention, and have declared it as such under s4 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
With this declaration, Parliament will now either have to amend the law to allow heterosexual couples the option to become Civil Partners rather than Spouses or, rather more drastically, do away with Civil Partnership altogether. The option that Parliament may choose remains to be seen.
You can read the Supreme Court’s full judgement here.