Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan: What's the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan: What's the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A heterosexual couple have won their battle in the Supreme Court to have a civil partnership instead of marriage, leading many to question what the difference is between the two.

Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan were unable to have a civil partnership as only same-sex couples are currently eligible under UK law.

But the Supreme Court ruled in their favour that the current legislation was “incompatible” with human rights laws.

"We're feeling elated, exhausted and hopeful,” said Mr Keidan, 41.

Ms Steinfeld, 37, said: "Opening civil partnership to all would provide legal status and financial protection to the 3.3 million couples in this country who currently co-habit.

"Many of them would want to have a civil partnership, so they could better protect themselves and their families, that's why me and Charles took this legal battle on, not just for ourselves, but for all those people who are vulnerable and need that protection."

Many people are confused by the difference between marriage and a civil partnership, with some even questioning why a couple in love would be so opposed to marriage.

Here’s some of the common questions answered.


What’s the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was introduced to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples.

This means that both married people, and those in civil partnerships, have certain legal entitlements, including:

  • A claim to the home they live in. If a house is owned in only one partner’s name, the other has an entitlement to their share, providing they are registered as a spouse on the property’s deeds.
  • Parental rights over any children
  • Exemption from inheritance tax if they inherit their spouse’s estate
  • The right to be recognised as next-of-kin and make medical decisions
  • The right to receive a share of marital assets (money or property bought or contributed to during the relationship) in the event of a split


Why are only same-sex couples currently eligible for civil partnerships?

Until 2004, same-sex couples had no legal rights when it came to their relationship. The Civil Partnerships Act did not initially permit them to describe themselves as married or have any religious readings at their ceremony.

In 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was introduced, allowing gay or transgender couples to marry. Before this, only people who were biologically male and female could get married.

Same-sex couples can now choose to have a civil partnership or a marriage because of the two Acts, but mixed-sex couples can only legally marry.


Do unmarried couples who live together have the same rights as a married couple?

Some people assume that living together for a long time means you’re entitled to the same rights as a married couple, but this isn’t the case.

If they had separate bank accounts, the surviving partner won’t be able to access the deceased’s account.

Unless they were named in a will, they will not have an automatic right to their partner’s estate.

If one partner is seriously ill, the other won’t be able to make medical decisions for them unless they’ve been legally named as having power of attorney.

If an unmarried couple have children, the father does not automatically have parental responsibility unless he’s named on the birth certificate.

For same-sex couples, the non-biological parent must be named on the birth certificate or obtain a parental responsibility order through the courts.


Why were Rebecca and Charles opposed to marriage?

Some people wondered why Rebecca and Charles didn’t just get married, as it would give them the same rights as a civil partnership.

They previously explained they were opposed to its patriarchal history.

For instance, fathers almost always got custody of children in a divorce until 1839, when a woman campaigned for mothers to have custody rights.

Married women were not legal owners of the money they earned or their property until a law was passed in 1870.

Rape within marriage was legal in England until 1991.

Elements of marriage such as a woman being expected to take a man’s name (which is not a legal obligation), the act of a father ‘giving away’ his daughter are regarded as sexist by some people.

Rebecca and Charles believe that a civil partnership will give them a more equal union than marriage.