A Manx Alternative To Marriage

2nd August 2016 Family Law

We can be proud that the English legal system is viewed as one of the most progressive in the world. However, there are certain examples of how the wheels of justice can move slowly, outpaced in particular by the pace of change in family life.

One such matter has been brought to light by the decision of the Isle of Man's parliament, the Tynwald, to allow heterosexual couples to form civil partnerships.

Whilst it might seem a relatively insignificant step compared to its recent move to permit gay marriage, there are those who believe that Westminster should be taking a page from the Manx statute book, so to speak.

Ever since the introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples in England and Wales in 2004, individuals have been campaigning for the same status of relationships to be extended to men and women who want to set up home together too.

Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, for instance, will go to the Court of Appeal in November, arguing that they should be able to enter into a civil partnership. They claim that a civil partnership represents a statement of commitment to one another without the kind of negative traditions which they associate with marriage.

The twin developments highlight something of a legal grey area, for while couples from the UK could in theory go to the Isle of Man to establish their civil partnership, there's every chance that it wouldn't mean a thin when they returned home.

Civil partnerships under the English law do provide the same legal obligations and protections as are available to married couples. There is an important 'but', though, and that is they can only be formed by people of the same sex.

It's a dilemma which I've been exploring with John Bingham, the Social Affairs Editor of the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/01/isle-of-man-law-opens-door-to-heterosexual-civil-partnerships/).

According to the Ministry of Justice, the matter might only be resolved by a couple challenging the restrictions in court.

I reckon that, even then, the outcome might still be insufficient for those agitating in favour of equality.

The restrictions set out in the original 2004 English legislation can only be countered by another law passed by parliament and that, of course, may not come about for some years.

There are couples who will no doubt be frustrated by that prospect but, once again, the laws of the land need to move to meet the new reality in British homes.

To discuss this, or a related family law issue with our team, please do not hesitate to contact Holly.

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Holly Tootill is a Partner located in Manchesterin our Family department

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