The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in their legal bid to enter into a civil partnership instead of a marriage.
Judges ruled that The Civil Partnership Act 2004, which only applies to same-sex couples, was ‘incompatible’ with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The ruling overturns a previous judgement made by the Court of Appeal, which had rejected Steinfeld and Keidan’s claim that the law was discriminatory.
The case is hugely significant. Aside from removing the religious aspects of a marriage, a civil partnership provides couples with the same legal and financial protection as marriage. This has implications in terms of inheritance, tax, pensions and next of kin.
Common law marriage is actually a myth. Couples who live together do not have the same protection as married couples, so for heterosexual couples if they don’t wish to marry, they miss out on a number of benefits.
For example if you are married or in a civil partnership the following applies:
- If one of you dies without a will, civil partners, just like married partners, inherit under the rules of intestacy. In contrast cohabiting partners can’t inherit under the intestacy rules.
- In terms of inheritance tax, if one of you dies your £325,000 IHT-free allowance will be passed to your spouse, making their IHT threshold £650,000.
- If you separate, your home and assets will be valued and shared fairly, which is not the case for couples who live together.
- If one of you has a final salary pension, your spouse may receive up to half of the pension on your death.
Following the ruling, the government announced that civil partnerships will be made available to heterosexual as well as gay couples and the Government Equalities Office (GEO) is consulting on how to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.