As of this month legislation has come into force in the Isle of Man which allows heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships. Although the Isle of Man is a crown dependency separate from the UK, it remains closely tied to the UK. The new legislation in the Isle of Man is likely to create renewed pressure in the UK for straight couples to have the same rights, and to be able to enter into civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage.
The issue of straight couples entering into civil partnerships in the UK has been widely reported in the press, particularly in January of this year when the High Court in London was faced with an application to judicially review the existing legislation: the Civil Partnership Act 2004.
A long-cohabiting couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, brought an application before Mrs Justice Andrews to have the existing legislation reviewed. The Civil Partnership Act 2004 stipulates that only same-sex couples are eligible to form a civil partnership. Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan contended that the position of the government, in relation to civil partnerships, was “incompatible with equality law”. The couple further submitted that it was a breach of their Article 8 ECHR rights (right to family life and private life), though Mrs Justice Andrews found that the existing law did not amount to unlawful state interference.
It must be pointed out that at the time the Civil Partnership Act came into force, same-sex couples were not able to marry. The creation of civil partnerships, was therefore something of a compromise to appease same-sex couples seeking legal recognition of their long-standing relationships, and to afford same-sex couples a level of protection in terms of recognising similar legal rights which married couples already benefited from. However, with the change in the law in March 2014 which allowed same-sex couples to marry, it appears that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is in need of a fairly comprehensive review.
Whilst the government maintains that there are legitimate policy reasons for restricting civil partnerships to same-sex couples, it does seem rather odd that heterosexual couples should be denied the ability to choose between marriage or a civil partnership, as gay and lesbian couples are now able to do.
Whilst it may be a ‘second best’ option, heterosexual couples from the UK are able to enter into civil partnerships on the Isle of Man, the Manx government having confirmed that they will be open to anyone from outside the island.
For straight couples considering forming a civil partnership on the Isle of Man, the real test will be whether the partnership is then recognised when the couple return to the UK or whether it is simply classed as marriage in the UK. Representatives for the Ministry of Justice have, unsurprisingly, stated that it would be a matter for the courts to resolve in a future test case. No doubt, it will not be long before a suitable case makes its way through the court system.
We eagerly await a ruling on this issue, though until such time as the Courts do make a decision, it would seem that the Isle of Man may just become the next Gretna Green for heterosexual couples seeking an alternative to marriage.
Our family team regularly advise on issues relating to civil partnerships and marriage.
This article is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publicising. QualitySolicitors Knight Polson accepts no responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek legal advice on your situation.
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