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Can Straight Couples now have Civil Partnerships?

27 June 2018

Congratulations to  Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Kiedan (and their lawyers!) on their historic victory in the Supreme Court today, overturning a Court of Appeal ruling which had frustrated their campaign for  Civil Partnerships  to be made available to all couples.

 

Cartridges Law partner Penny Scott chairs The Law Society Family Law Committee and points out:

“This ruling  does not change the law in itself but will compel the government to change the law. We hope that the change will allow all couples the right to register a civil partnership  in preference to a marriage. This is a choice same sex couples have had for the past 4 years, so the current law is discriminatory.”

Bridget Garrood  is herself in a Civil Partnership and has represented LGBT+ clients for over two decades, since long before there was any option for registration of a same sex partnership.   Bridget is also a partner in our firm, and  was active as a member of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association in scrutinising the passage of the Civil Partnership legislation some 15 years ago. As she specialises in pensions on divorce, she lobbied in favour of equal survivor rights for Civil Partners but some 14 years later, these have yet to arrive. Meanwhile Bridget  has developed a unique specialism  in this poorly understood  area of discrimination, and now sits on the LGBT+ division committee of The Law Society.  Even as the prosecco corks are presumably popping, she adds  a note of caution:

“ Unfortunately, despite an equally welcome  Supreme Court ruling holding the government to account nearly a year ago, the law still allows many pension schemes to discriminate against a surviving same-sex spouse or civil partner, by paying out a smaller survivor pension. In some cases much smaller than the pension which the same pension member would have been able to pass to their husband or wife of the opposite sex, after a marriage of identical length”.

 

Excused by an exemption to the usual rules of equal treatment under the Equality Act 2010,  a pension scheme is still allowed to ignore  many years of pension contributions which were made by the LGBT pension member before December 2005 when the first Civil Partnerships were celebrated.

 

Bridget can’t help wondering “ If Rebecca and Charles, and any couples who follow suit, were to be allowed to  register a civil partnership, would  they realise they were  at the same time choosing the same equal but inferior survivor rights as a same sex couple?”

 

Equal pension rights  were not even extended to same-sex couples when granted the right to marry in 2014 . We hope Rebecca and Charles will soon be able to “save the date” for their Civil Partnership without having to share this ongoing pensions inequality  with  same sex couples.

 

Another option for the government and a far cheaper one for the powerful pensions industry,  who are lobbying hard for this, would be  the abolition of Civil Partnerships altogether. It would be a pyrrhic victory indeed for this couple if this were to happen, especially if the government did not seize at the same time the opportunity to reform the law for cohabitees, who have none of the benefits conferred by marriage or civil partnership if their relationships break down or their partner dies.

 

Contact bridget.garrood@cartridgeslaw.co.uk if you are worried about your pension or other survivor rights if your partner were to die before any long awaited equality reforms occur, or to explore your options and the financial implications  for entering or dissolving a marriage or Civil Partnership.

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