Yesterday, The Supreme Court of England and Wales decided that it was inconsistent with The European Convention on Human Rights for heterosexual couples not to be given the same opportunity as same-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership.
Civil partnerships were introduced in this country to address the discrimination against same-sex couples who were not allowed to marry.
A civil partnership effectively has the same consequences as marriage. The ceremony is different but otherwise it is effectively the same as marriage.
There was still an argument that it was discriminatory that marriage was not available to same-sex couples. As a result, the law was changed so that same-sex couples could legally marry. That meant that same sex couples were left with a choice of marriage or civil partnerships. Heterosexual couple had no such choice and could only marry. Civil partnerships were not available to them. The Supreme Court decided yesterday that that is discrimination. It is contrary to the right to family life enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights
Since the introduction of same-sex marriage there has been an ongoing debate about whether civil partnerships should be abolished entirely. Were they still necessary? They didn’t do anything different to marriage and so was this just providing an additional tier of law and procedure that was unnecessary? Did civil partnerships serve a purpose?
Interestingly, in the year following the introduction of same-sex marriage the number of civil partnerships in England and Wales fell by 49%.
So why would somebody want to have a civil partnership if they could marry?
Arguments vary but basically it boils down to the idea that marriage historically was based upon old fashioned patriarchal principles.
Like many lawyers I believe that this argument is perhaps detracting from a more important argument and issue facing families in this country: the lack of rights for couples who choose to cohabit rather than marry or enter into civil partnerships. The lack of protection for separating cohabiting couples has for a long time been a cause for serious concern for family lawyers in the context of rapidly declining numbers of marriage compared to a significant increase in the number of couples cohabiting. The argument about same-sex marriage perhaps has taken the focus off this important issue.
There was already a debate about whether or not civil partnerships should now be abolished as everyone is free to marry. That might be seen as the simpler route to equality as opposed to allowing both civil partnerships and marriage for all. What do you think?
Should civil partnerships be abolished leaving marriage available to all? Yes or no?