Alison Green, Head of the Family Law Team at Mackrell Turner Garrett in London, has said that a landmark ruling relating to civil partnerships at the Supreme Court – R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) (Respondent) [2018] UKSC 32 – could potentially open a path for the creation of opposite-sex civil partnerships in the near future.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, finding that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Act, which currently only applies to same-sex couples, entitles partners to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage.

However, campaigners have long argued that civil partnership should be opened up to opposite-sex couples as well.

Reflecting on the ruling, Alison Green, who has been a close follower of this case having personally known Charles and Rebecca for many years, said:

“The initial impact of this ruling is limited as the Government will need to enact legislation to change the current Civil Partnership Act to apply to opposite-sex couples.

“Subject to Government legislation being enacted, the likely outcome is that different-sex couples will be able to enter into a civil partnership in the same way that same-sex couples currently can and they will, therefore, be able to enjoy inheritance rights and tax benefits which are not currently available to them by just living together.

“There is, of course, the possibility that the Government could abolish civil partnerships altogether as a result of this ruling but given that there is clearly a desire amongst some different-sex couples to enjoy the rights a civil partnership would provide to them, it would be very odd for the Government to take away such rights by abolishing civil partnerships as this would mean that same-sex couples would also be affected and leave marriage as the only option open to couples.

“The Civil Partnership Act provides a framework for the consequences of the breakdown of a civil partnership in a not dissimilar way to the legislation which deals with the breakdown of a marriage. 

“Therefore, if the Civil Partnership Act is extended to opposite-sex couples, this will give them rights to make financial claims against their former partner in the event that the relationship breaks down. What this actually means, therefore, is that parties who cohabit will gain rights for the first time if legislation is enacted and they decide to enter into a civil partnership. As there are no current statutory rights specifically for cohabitees, any law change in this respect would be a huge advancement for society.”