On Friday it was announced that heterosexual couple, Ms Steinfeld, 34, and Mr Keidan, 39, who want to enter into a civil partnership rather than marry had lost their High Court challenge. The couple set out to prove that opposite-sex couples are being subjected to discrimination, as the Civil Partnership Act 2004 requires that partners be "two people of the same sex". The couple believe that a civil partnership will have a greater focus on equality, without the patriarchal history and associations of marriage. Mrs Justice Andrews dismissed their claim for judicial review.
Whilst this case no doubt presents an interesting challenge, it misses the point. This couple could have entered into a civil marriage, which has no religious overtones, and which affords them rights before the law. The real issue is that there remains a clear distinction between legal marriage and unmarried cohabitation, in terms of legal regulation and state intervention. The truth is that rates of marriage and civil partnership are in significant decline, whilst cohabitees are the fastest growing type of family in Britain. There are over three million cohabiting couples in England and Wales, and increasing numbers of children are born each year outside of legally regulated relationships.
Society has undeniably changed and the law now lags behind the society it serves. Friday's case only serves to show that there is a need for a detailed legal framework to provide legal protection to cohabiting, same and opposite sex couples similar to that enjoyed by those couples who are married or in a civil partnership. Our family justice system needs to ensure that it benefits, protects and respects all 21st Century families, including those who do not wish to enter into a marriage or civil partnership, but who would still benefit from the protection the law only currently offers to those in regulated relationships.