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Civil partnerships for heterosexuals?

When I attended the Sunday Times cohabitation debate recently one thing that struck me is that some of those who cohabit do so because they are ideologically opposed to marriage.

Many individuals, while rejecting marriage, do however want the associated legal benefits. Some heterosexuals feel the answer is to introduce civil partnerships for opposite sex as well as same sex couples. And now the matter is subject to judicial review after one couple failed in their bid to enter into a civil partnership.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, academics in their thirties who are expecting their first child, gave notice of their intention to enter into a civil partnership at London’s Chelsea Town Hall. However when they turned up for the ceremony the registrar told them that this would not be possible as, under Section 3 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if they are not of the same sex.

Steinfeld explained to the Guardian why she did not want a traditional marriage: “Our objection to marriage is partly to do with its history, a union in which women were exploited for their domestic and sexual services. There are still sexist trappings to weddings: there’s only space for the father to sign on the registry form.”

It is arguable that marriage, like society, has evolved, that women are no longer their husbands’ chattels, and that few wives today promise to “obey”. However given that marriage has now been extended to gay couples (under the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013) it is hard to see why civil partnerships should not also become universally accessible.

The government’s view is that civil partnerships for heterosexual couples are unnecessary. David Cameron is reported as saying that civil partnerships for heterosexuals would undermine marriage. They are however common in a number of countries such as Holland, New Zealand and France.

Steinfeld and Keidan have instructed Karon Monaghan QC, a leading equalities lawyer, to fight their case, using crowd funding to pay for their legal action.