Does Anti-Discrimination Legislation Now Cause Discrimination?

Does Anti-Discrimination Legislation Now Cause Discrimination?

The recent High Court decision not to allow a heterosexual couple to enter into a Civil Partnership has drawn attention to the role of Civil Partnerships. Originally the Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to avoid discrimination towards same sex couples and to enable them to enter into a Civil Partnership when at that time they could not marry. The position has now changed in that same sex marriage is allowed – where does that leave Civil Partnerships?

The case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan was brought by them as they are not allowed to enter into Civil Partnership as they are a heterosexual couple. The High Court denied their application on the basis that the Civil Partnership Act requires two people of the same sex and does not extend to heterosexual couples. This has often been justified upon the basis that heterosexual couples could marry but that now applies to heterosexual and same sex couples.

There has been some comment and dismay that the Civil Partnership Act is now acting in a discriminatory way by preventing opposite sex couples entering into a Civil Partnership if they do not wish to get married. The High Court made it clear that it was not for the Court to look into this and there would need to be a change in legislation which at present is being considered by Parliament. In addition to the suggestion that heterosexual couples should be able to enter into Civil Partnerships there has also been the proposal that Civil Partnerships themselves should be abolished now that heterosexual and same sex couples can get married.

Watch this space! Counsel for the Government has said that Ministers have decided that it was "not necessary to undertake the costly and complex exercise of extending Civil Partnerships in the interim where they may be abolished or phased out in a few years". We will see what happens but the High Court has made it clear that at the moment the Civil Partnership Act still just applies to same sex couples which was the original intention of the legislation when first introduced.

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