Civil partnerships: inferior to marriage?
News article published on: 20th June 2012
A recent case is asking the European Court of Human Rights to either repeal the Civil Partnership 2004 or grant heterosexual couples access to entering into a civil partnership. The following pieces briefly considers the facts of the case.
Statute has made clear distinctions between the requirements for entering into both marriage and civil partnerships.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 states that the parties to a marriage must be male and female, while the Civil Partnership Act 2004 stipulates that the parties to a civil partnership must be of the same sex.
The case however of Ferguson and Others v UK seeks to request that the European Court of Human Rights reconsiders this approach. The case arose after four heterosexual couples unsuccessfully attempted to give notice of their intention to register a civil partnership rather than enter into a marriage, and four homosexual couples also unsuccessfully attempted to give notice of their intention to marry. As a result, in 2011, these individuals made an application to the European Court of Human Rights.
The applicants argue that the combination of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 create a structure that divides couples into separately but substantively similar institutions, with different names but parallel rights and responsibilities. They believe that this segregation is based solely on couples’ sexual orientation. It is their case that such a distinction affecting the parties’ Human Rights – in this case the rights to marry in Article 12 of the European Convention of Human Rights and respect for family life in Article 8 – must have an objective and reasonable justification for doing so. Their argument contends that the only reason for maintaining the current system is to use the law to stigmatise same-sex couples as socially and legally inferior, and different-sex couples as socially and legally superior.
The applicants seek a ruling from the Court that those states that have created separate marriage like institutions, such as civil partnerships, provide same sex couples with access to the legal institution and language of marriage, and that the Civil Partnership Act is either repealed, or equal access granted to it for heterosexual couples. The application is currently being progressed through the European Court of Human Rights and the Court is yet to make a ruling on this matter.
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