Case for equal civil partnerships to be heard in the Court of Appeal

Today in London Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan will take their case for equal civil partnership to the Court of Appeal. The case was initially heard in January 2016, where the High Court judgement ruled that the continuing ban in civil partnerships for opposite sex couples was legal. However, the same judge also said that many people would regard the situation as unfair and that, as the case raised “issues of wider public importance”, it deserved scrutiny by a higher court.

If their appeal is successful then the Civil Partnership Act (CPA) will be declared incompatible with Articles 8 (Right to respect for private and family life) and 14 (Prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights, leaving the expectation on the government to extend civil partnerships to all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. This would be fantastic news not only for Rebecca and Charles, but also for the 70,000 people who have signed their petition calling for the law to be changed.

According to the Office of National Statistics there are currently three-million different sex, unmarried couples living together – the fastest growing family type in the UK. This figure equates to one in five households, and while their reasons for not marrying will undoubtedly be varied, from principled objections to simply not feeling ready, it has become clear that the law must change to afford them the same basic protections that many of us take for granted.

Sonya Hallett and Fergus Murray are an Edinburgh based couple who chose to have what they dubbed an ‘uncivil ceremony’ last year. We spoke to them about their reasons for wanting to choose civil partnership over marriage.

Fergus said:

Sonya and Fergus at their 'uncivil ceremony'

Sonya and Fergus at their ‘uncivil ceremony’

“Last year Sonya and I had a hand fasting ceremony, which resembled a wedding in certain key respects, but differed in others. Like a wedding, it was a ceremonial declaration of our

intention to stay together long-term, and a public celebration of our love. Unlike a wedding, it had no legal standing, and came with no expectation that we would be upholding any particular aspect of the marriage institution.

“​It is ​the baggage of the institution of marriage that made us reluctant to sign up to it. It is historically patriarchal, reinforcing binary gender norms in a system of traditions shaped by the church and a sexist, heteronormative society. There is of course much in there that is beautiful and constructive, and ideas of marriage have changed over time and continue to do so. Still, signing up for marriage as it currently exists in our society implies acceptance all of its troubling associations, however much we might try to adopt only its positive aspect. Civil partnerships (as well as ‘uncivil partnerships’ like ours) provide an opportunity for re-imagining what it means to be partners for life, outside of the strictures of traditional marriage but no less serious or deserving of legal recognition.”

Sonya added:

“Despite the legalisation of gay marriage, I think as a society we still don’t do enough to question the institution of marriage and the language, expectations and historical baggage that come with it.  I would never want to be considered a wife, and I would not like to legally be labelled as one (being gender non-binary plays a part in this).  We can define marriage ourselves however we want but, especially as a mostly heterosexual-presenting couple, unless we can categorically state that we rejected marriage in favour of a civil partnership, others will always impose their understandings and values associated with marriage onto our partnership.  Our non-legal ceremony last year was great in opening up a lot of these conversations, simply by answering the question “why isn’t it a wedding?” I think has really made others also think about how they want to define their partnerships.

“It seems like a trivial point until one pays attention to just how often people in the media and in everyday conversation are type-cast as a result of them being a ‘wife’ or ‘husband’.  As a wife or husband, our genders would immediately be (inaccurately) defined, odd expectations placed on our behaviour, and assumptions made about our relationship dynamics that would often be completely wrong.  Civil partnerships do not come with such baggage.”

Pressure is growing in support of equal civil partnership. In an historic move today the London Assembly have unanimously passed a motion backing the extension of civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples. Whatever the outcome of today’s legal challenge the government will be sent a clear message that they must be willing to change the law to reflect the world around us.


Notes:

For further comment please contact Gary McLelland on 07813060713 or gary@humanism.scot.

For more information on the campaign for Equal Civil Partnerships please visit www.equalcivilpartnerships.org.uk/

About HSS: Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 14,000 members across Scotland.

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