Supreme Court rules that excluding different-sex couples from civil partnership is human rights discrimination– what next?

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights because it only allows same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships anmulti coloured umbrellas_bd discriminates against different-sex couples. Hearing a case brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan (see earlier blog for background information), a different-sex couple who want to enter into a civil partnership rather than to marry, the five Supreme Court Judges have unanimously ruled that the current rules are discriminatory.

Civil partnership was introduced to the UK in 2004, to provide legal recognition of same-sex relationships. It gives same-sex couples who register the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, but has always been a separate from marriage (with different terminology and a different process for registering) and it has never been available to different-sex couples. In 2004, much of the debate in Parliament highlighted how civil partnership was something separate from marriage, and so did not undermine the ancient institution of marriage. But the world moved on in its acceptance of same-sex relationships, and in 2013 UK law was changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since 2013 this has meant that same-sex couples have the choice of registering a civil partnership or getting married, whereas different-sex couples can only marry.

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling has made a declaration of incompatibility, setting out that the current discrimination is in breach of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to private family life). This has not resulted in a law change to enable heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships just yet, but it will put the government under pressure to make up its mind about whether to abolish civil partnership or to open it up to different-sex couples. We will be closely monitoring this and will post a further blog when there are any announcements from Government.

We are extremely pleased with this ruling – it removes discrimination and if the law is changed, it will give all couples (gay and straight) the right to make a decision as to which legal union they feel is better suited to them. Statistics estimate that there are over 3 million cohabitating couples living in the UK. These couples have almost no legal protection in the event of a relationship breakdown and a law change may therefore encourage these couples to enter into civil partnerships which would be significant as it would provide them with the same legal protection/rights as a married couple.

If you would like any advice on your personal circumstances or, if you are unsure as to your current legal position please email us at or call on 020 3701 5915 and we will explain how we can help.