Different-Sex Civil Partnerships

The Supreme Court has handed down a landmark decision regarding different-sex civil partnerships in June 2018.


The Civil Partnership Act 2004 allows only same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. It was originally introduced to give same-sex couples a route to formalise their relationship as same-sex marriage was illegal.

However, In 2013, the law on marriage changed with the introduction of The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which made the marriage of same-sex couples lawful. The introduction of the Act gave same-sex couples a choice as to whether they would like to enter into a civil partnership or marriage. In comparison, different-sex couples do not have this choice.

Why not marriage?

Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keiden have deep-routed and genuine ideological objections to marriage.

 They wanted to formalise their relationship by creating a legal union through a civil partnership instead. However, the current legislation does not permit this as they are a heterosexual couple.

Against Human Rights?

 The Human Rights Act 1998 states that legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the rights set out in The European Convention of Human Rights.

However, Steinfield and Keiden did not agree that the Civil Partnership Act followed this and so they brought a case to The Supreme Court. They argued that the law was not compatible with the Human Rights Act as it was in contravention of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights .

 In a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, it was decided that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is not compatible with The Human Rights Act as there is an inequality of treatment between same-sex and different-sex couples. It was stated that the reasons for this incompatibility cannot be justified.

The ruling reads: ‘The interests of the community in denying those different sex couples who have a genuine objection to being married the opportunity to enter into a civil partnership are unspecified and not easy to envisage.’ (52)

Does this mean different-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships?

This does not mean that different-sex couples will be able to immediately enter into civil partnerships as the decision of the Court is not binding on Parliament. However, it does mean that the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the UK Government is in breach of its obligations under the Human Rights Act and therefore the Court has made a declaration of incompatibility.

 The law will remain the same until Parliament removes the incompatibility.  

Many will now be hoping that following this decision, The Government will change the law on civil partnerships to include different-sex couples. However, we will have to watch this space to see what happens next.

Emma Tullis

James Bryant