Attitudes to sexuality are etched in law. However, the speed of change that led from the Civil Partnership Act 2004 to the same-sex marriage Act in 2014 has produced another legal anomaly. The fact that straight couples have no alternative for their relationship to be recognised in law. For heterosexual couples it either Marriage or nothing.
The government’s equalities office says there is no discrimination in this. However currently there are cases in the Appeal Courts arguing for heterosexual rights to a civil partnership. This pressure has led to a movement in which the 2004 Civil Partnership Act is to be amended so that it applies equally to heterosexual and homosexual couples. Unfortunately, the suggested draft amendments have failed three times to adequately resolve this issue.
Many people do believe that same-sex and straight couples should be entitled to the same treatment, but it is not the biggest source of unfairness and discrimination when it comes to relationships breaking down. The real crisis is the inequality of rights for Cohabitees.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman could receive her late partner’s pension despite not being married. Scottish law recognises that cohabiting couples have some financial rights, though less than married couples, after a period of living together. That means that individual contributions to the relationship are recognised and calculated in a standard and relatively straightforward way. In Australia, courts treat gay or straight couples who have lived together for more than a year or had a child in a similar way to those who are married.
The number of people in the UK living as couples who are married or in civil partnerships is stable at just under 13 million. The number of couples cohabiting doubled from 1.5 million in 1996, to 3.3 million. Last year, more than a quarter of babies were born to unmarried parents.
The statistics show that the Law and Courts of the United Kingdom have failed to keep pace with such a dramatic change in lifestyle. The church often argues that the law must send a signal about the importance of marriage. However, in an ever changing and ever evolving Great Britain, one which is home to many people of different backgrounds, faiths, sexualities and religions, the role of marriage is simply outdated and is now seen more as a tradition or a means to an end. The Law shouldn’t give special treatment in regards to the dissolution of a relationship simply because one couple may have signed a marriage certificate. The world has moved on and therefore equal legal rights for cohabitees are now essential.
We can help
For further advice or information please contact Josh and the family team at our Spalding Office on 01775 662662.