Claire Beale and Martin Loat from Ealing in West London recently became the first UK-based heterosexual couple to become civil partners in the British Isles. In this article, Keystone’s Family team look at why the geographically small Isle of Man is making giant steps for marriage equality.

Under current UK law, only same-sex couples can become civil partners. This situation resulted from the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act in 2004, which provided for the first time a route for same-sex couples to have their relationships legally recognised. The Isle of Man is currently the only part of the British Isles providing the option of civil partnership to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Isle of Man legislation allowing for this came into force in July 2016.

While the Civil Partnership Act was considered to be a step forward for LGBT+ rights, the fact that the institution of marriage continued to be reserved to heterosexual couples was considered by many to be discriminatory. After years of campaigning, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was introduced in 2013. This made it possible for same-sex couples to marry for the first time and was generally considered to represent a huge step forward for equal rights in the UK.

Importantly, the introduction of the Same-Sex Marriage Act did not remove the option for same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. However, the Civil Partnership Act clearly states that only same-sex couples can be registered as civil partners. For couples like Beale and Loat this difference considered unfair and discriminatory against heterosexual couples.

One couple trying to affect a change in the law are Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. Together they have spearheaded the ‘Equal Civil Partnerships’ campaign and in 2015 they brought an application for judicial review of the law that only allows same-sex couples to be registered as civil partners in the UK.

Steinfeld and Keidan explain that entering into a civil partnership, rather than a marriage, symbolises their legal union starting out in an equal and modern way. Keidan stated:

“We feel that civil partnerships reflect the values that we feel that we share as a couple; values of equality, and we feel that it is a modern social institution that reflects that. We see ourselves as partners in life and wish to become partners in law.”

For Beale and Loat, Steinfeld and Keidan, and others like them, civil partnership is seen as not being weighed down by centuries of law that treated women and children as the husband’s property. They note that in contrast to the marriage certificate which only records the name of each party’s father, the civil partnership certificate records the names of both the mother and the father of each party. They are asking for a single civil marriage law to be introduced in the UK that applies to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

In January 2016, the High Court heard Steinfeld and Keidan’s claim for judicial review. The claim was unsuccessful despite the court noting that their case raised “issues of wider public importance”. Following a wave of public support for the case, which saw Steinfeld and Keidan’s online petition receive just under 80,000 signatures, an appeal was brought. The appeal was then heard on 2nd-3rd November.

In court, the Government continued to argue that there was not enough evidence to prove that opposite-sex couples want a civil partnership. However, in a new development, they did admit that the current inequality is untenable and that a decision on the future of civil partnerships will be required in the next five years. It is hoped that an outcome will be reached before the end of 2016.

Family lawyers throughout the British Isles will be waiting to find out whether the appeal court will push the UK Parliament towards taking the next step towards progressive legal union for UK couples regardless of sexual orientation.

Uniquely, Keystone Law is able to provide legal advice in both the UK and the Isle of Man. As such, the Keystone Law Family team has a particular interest in discovering whether the Court of Appeal will push the UK Parliament towards following the Isle of Man in taking the next step towards progressive legal union for UK couples regardless of sexual orientation.

This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.