A heterosexual couple fighting a law which prevents them entering into a civil partnership have called on the Government to “act with urgency” after winning a legal battle at the UK’s highest court.
Following a declaration by the Supreme Court that the current legislation is “incompatible” with human rights laws, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan described being “elated”.
Speaking outside court after Wednesday’s ruling, Ms Steinfeld, 37, said: “Today we are a step closer to opening civil partnerships to all, a measure that would be fair, popular and good for families and children across the country.”
Mr Keidan, 41, said there was now only one option – “to extend civil partnerships to all”.
He said it was hoped the Government would now “act with urgency” for the sake of thousands of couples across the country.
The couple, who have two young daughters and live in Hammersmith, west London, are currently prevented from having a legal union through the route of civil partnership because the Civil Partnership Act 2004 says only same-sex couples are eligible.
Five Supreme Court justices, including the court’s president Lady Hale, granted a declaration that, in precluding a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership, the Act was “incompatible” with European human rights laws on discrimination and the right to a private and family life.
While granting the declaration, the court pointed out that the Government was not “obliged” to do anything as the result of its decision on incompatibility.
Lord Kerr, explaining the decision, said the Government “does not seek to justify the difference in treatment between same-sex and different sex couples”.
He added: “To the contrary, it accepts that the difference cannot be justified.”
What the Government sought was “tolerance of the discrimination while it sorts out how to deal with it”.
He concluded: “That cannot be characterised as a legitimate aim.”
Lord Kerr said it was “salutary to recall that a declaration of incompatibility does not oblige the Government or Parliament to do anything”.
During a hearing in May, the couple’s barrister, Karon Monaghan QC, told the Supreme Court that they have “deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage” and are “not alone” in their views.
She said matrimony was “historically heteronormative and patriarchal” and the couple’s objections were “not frivolous”.
Ms Monaghan added: “These are important issues, no small matters, and they are serious for my clients because they cannot marry conformable with their conscience and that should weigh very heavily indeed.”
The Supreme Court justices unanimously allowed an appeal by the couple against a Court of Appeal decision which went against them in February last year.
The Court of Appeal had agreed that they had established a potential violation of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to discrimination, taken with Article 8, which refers to respect for private and family life.
But, by a majority of two to one, the judges said the interference was justified by the Government’s policy of “wait and evaluate”.
The Government said it was decided, after public consultations and debate in Parliament, not to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, abolish them or phase them out at that stage.
The aim was to see how extending marriage to same-sex couples impacted on civil partnerships before making a final decision which, if reversed in a few years, would be disruptive, unnecessary and extremely expensive.
Mr Keidan, a magazine editor, said outside court: “There are 3.3 million cohabiting couples in this country, the fastest growing family type.
“Many want legal recognition and financial protection, but cannot have it because they are not married and because the choice of a civil partnership is not open to them.
“The law needs to catch up with the reality of family life in Britain in 2018.”