High Court judge permits straight civil partnerships legal challenge to proceed

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A High Court judge has granted permission to proceed to a legal case against the British Government for its refusal to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.

The case was brought by couple Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who issued their grounds of challenge and witness statements to the High Court in December.

The couple a year before announced their engagement in a newspaper, but said that they would get civilly partnered rather than married, in order to push for full marriage equality.

Arguing that marriage is not currently equal, as civil partnerships are available to same-sex couples but not opposite-sex, the couple say they do not wish to enter a formal union which brings with it the traditions of marriage.

The couple recently wrote on PinkNews explaining their reasons for wanting to extend civil partnerships to straight couples.

Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing DBE this week gave permission for the case to proceed, and also issued a Protective Costs Order (PCO), in order to limit the couple’s liability for Government legal costs, should they be unsuccessful.

The couple argue that the judge’s granting of permission and PCO make clear that the case is of public importance and is in the wider public interest.

An online petition has so far attracted almost 3,000 signatures calling for opposite-sex couples, like same-sex couples, to have an
equal choice between civil partnership and marriage.

In a statement to PinkNews, Rebecca Steinfeld said: “The granting of permission by a High Court judge is a significant milestone in our effort to open civil partnerships to all, regardless of sex or sexual orientation. The judge’s order recognises the public importance of addressing the issue of direct discrimination against opposite-sex couples seeking civil partnerships. There is now no doubt that there is public interest in ending this inequality. We again urge the Minister for Equalities, Nicky Morgan MP, to avoid the need for costly legal action by introducing a simple amendment that removes the clause barring civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples from the Civil Partnership Act 2004. For us, as for thousands of other opposite-sex couples, entering into a civil partnership would be a serious, lifelong commitment that will give us the legal rights and responsibilities that we need to protect ourselves and our families while formalising our relationship within a modern social institution.”

The couple’s solicitor, Louise Whitfield, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn said: “This is an important case about discrimination and human rights affecting thousands of people; in granting permission the judge acknowledges the case is arguable and should be heard; PCOs are not awarded lightly, but only in cases of real public importance which it is in the public interest for the court to decide.” Announcing the launch of a new funding drive for the case, and the formation of a high-profile supporter group – including the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, education campaigner Fiona Millar, architect Elsie Owusu OBE, and human rights law expert Robert Wintemute –

Charles Keidan added: “We have already received support from thousands of people across the country, who have signed our petition and contributed to our legal fund. We are also delighted to be working together with other couples and high-profile figures who share our concerns that every social institution should be open to everyone, regardless of sex or sexual orientation.”

Professor Wintemute said: “The European Convention on Human Rights requires the Government to show ‘particularly convincing and weighty’ reasons why it is necessary to exclude opposite-sex couples from civil partnership, now that same-sex couples may marry. This is a heavy burden of proof, which the Government will find very hard to meet.”

The couple are strong advocates of equal marriage for same-sex couples, and helped to set up the Facebook page ‘British Jews for Equal Marriage’, and Jews4Equality on Twitter, both of which push for same-sex marriage in Britain. They are also supporters of Keshet UK, which champions the inclusion of LGBTQI people in all areas of Jewish life.