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Civil partnerships for all… or for none?

The Supreme Court has today unanimously ruled that opposite-sex couples should have the same right to a civil partnership as has been enjoyed by same-sex couples only, since 2004. 

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 introduced same-sex couples to entitlement to the same legal treatment in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next-of-kin arrangements as marriage, if they entered into a legal relationship known as a civil partnership.  Importantly, the right to a civil partnership was not extended to straight couples, who were (in the eyes of the legislature, at least) still able to benefit from marriage.  The Court today said this position was discriminatory and therefore incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, as it only applies to same-sex couples, thus discriminating against opposite-sex relationships.

Since March 2014 when same-sex couples were given the right to marry, they had two options, marriage or civil partnership.  A choice which mixed-sex couples did not have.

The ruling does not oblige the Government to change the law, but it is an encouraging sign which they are likely to act on.  The BBC report that the Claimants will deliver a letter to the Equalities Minister, Penny Mordaunt, today.

However, following the further legalisation of same-sex marriages (rather than civil partnerships) in March 2014, meaning that marriage is now available to both gay and straight relationships, the Government could decide to simply streamline the whole system by removing civil partnerships altogether by repealing the Civil Partnership Act 2004, as there is no significant difference between the protections and rights afforded by civil partnerships as opposed to marriage, and the difference (from a legal perspective, at least) is therefore in name only.  Support for this approach is gleaned by the fact that the rate of Civil Partnerships has reduced by 85% since same-sex marriage was legalised, with the majority now opting for same-sex marriage rather than civil partnerships. 

For advice on marriage, civil partnership or dissolution of either please don’t hesitate to contact our family department or Corinne Parke direct on 0330 2000 065 or at


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