Civil partnership was originally introduced in England and Wales 2004 to enable same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship along with legal rights and responsibilities at a time when they were not able to marry.
However, in March 2014 the law changed further by allowing same-sex couples to get married or convert their civil partnerships into a marriage. As a result of this change, we were left with an anomaly in the law which left opposite-sex couples with only the choice of marriage whilst same-sex couples had two different ways of tying the knot.
A civil partnership is a relationship that is recognised by law between two people of the same sex. Once in a civil partnership, the same-sex couple is then treated in the same was as a married couple in a wide range of legal matters including tax benefits, inheritance and rights upon separation.
Civil partnerships are not currently available to opposite-sex couples in England and Wales. However, on 27 June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Steinfield and Keidan v Secretary of State for International Development that the inability for opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership was discriminatory and unlawful. Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan took their case to the Supreme Court because they wanted to secure legal recognition of their 6 year relationship without what they called the “patriarchal baggage” of marriage.
On 2 October 2018 at the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister confirmed that following the ruling of the Supreme Court the law will be changed to enable opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership. This will provide an alternative to marriage for couples who want to formalise their relationship away from the institution of marriage. There is currently no date set for the reform to the law.
Whilst opening up choice to opposite-sex couples, the change will make very little difference to their legal rights which will simply mirror those of married couples. Whilst it could provide protection to those who live together, but who do not want to marry, this will only be the case if those people choose to enter into a civil partnership. For couples who wish to simply live together with no legal status to their relationship, nothing will change at all and they will continue to lack inheritance and other legal rights.