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British court blocks hetero civil partnerships

Man and woman sue for the same legal status offered to gay couples

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan Associated Press/Photo by Charlotte Ball/PA

British court blocks hetero civil partnerships

A British appeals court ruled Tuesday against a heterosexual couple fighting for the right to form a civil partnership. The London couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, argued current law allowing only gay couples access to civil partnerships discriminates against their sexual orientation.

In a surprising turn, the Court of Appeal agreed but ruled against them. All three judges said the law unfairly treated Steinfeld and Keidan differently because of their sexuality. But in a 2-1 ruling, the panel of judges decided the government should be given more time to decide whether to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, abolish them, or slowly phase them out.

Britain legalized civil partnerships exclusively for same-sex couples in 2005, granting them the same legal, adoption, and inheritance rights as married couples. In 2014, Britain legalized same-sex marriage, opening two options for gay couples but leaving only one for opposite-sex couples.

“That’s not fair,” said Steinfeld and Keidan in a Guardian editorial. “None of us should be denied recognition or protection because marriage isn’t right for us.”

Steinfeld and Keidan, who first filed suit in 2014, reject marriage as a “patriarchal” institution with a “sexist history.” But they still want their relationship legally protected—they have a 20-month-old daughter together—and British law does not allow for “common law marriage.”

They argue they are speaking for Britain’s “fastest growing family type,” opposite-sex, cohabiting couples who do not want to marry and face serious risks without legal or financial protection. They say there are 3 million such couples in Britain caring for 2 million children.

“There’s a whole constituency of people out there who don’t like marriage,” said Matt Hawkins, the campaign manager for Steinfeld and Keidan’s group, Equal Civil Partnerships. “They don’t like the phrase ‘man and wife,’ and don’t like the patriarchal implications, but they do want the legal benefits.”

Both Labour and Conservative members of British Parliament in January expressed support for opening civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, saying the change was about fairness.

But pro-family groups in the U.K. are praising Tuesday’s ruling for not undermining marriage further by introducing a “marriage-lite.”

“I think it would have made the situation even more confusing than it already is,” Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One. “The problem really results from the government ripping up the definition of marriage,” noting that in addition to weakening marriage, extending civil partnerships to all would cost 3-4 billion pounds in public sector pensions alone.

France is already seeing the effects of “marriage-lite” arrangements. French law allows both same- and opposite-sex couples to file for a civil solidarity pact (pacte civil de solidarité), a union with fewer benefits but a simpler process for separation. Many couples are opting for a pact instead of marriage. In 2015, 188,900 French couples entered pacts and 236,400 married. Rates of marriage in France declined by a fifth in the last decade, according to reporting by The Guardian.

Steinfeld and Keidan said they planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court unless the government agreed to change the law.

Kiley Crossland Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.


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