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Couple in civil partnership fight pleased with aspects of ruling despite defeat

A heterosexual couple who have lost their latest battle for the right to enter into a civil partnership say there is "everything to fight for".

Rebecca Steinfeld, 35, and Charles Keidan, 40, want to secure legal recognition of their seven-year relationship through that route, but are prevented because the Civil Partnership Act 2004 says only same-sex couples are eligible.

The academics, who live in Hammersmith, west London, and have a 20-month-old daughter, claim the Government’s position is "incompatible with equality law" .

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal agreed they had established a potential violation of Article 14 of the European Convention, which relates to discrimination, taken with Article 8, which refers to respect for private and family life.

But, by a majority, the judges said it was at present justified by the Government’s policy of "wait and evaluate".

They heard the couple have deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage and wish to enter into a legally-regulated relationship which does not carry "patriarchal baggage".

The Secretary of State for Education, who has responsibility for equalities within Government, said it was decided, after public consultations and debate in Parliament, not, at this stage, to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, abolish them or phase them out.

The aim was to see how extending marriage to same-sex couples impacted on civil partnerships before making a final decision which, if reversed in a few years’ time, would be disruptive, unnecessary and extremely expensive.

Ms Steinfeld said: " We are pleased that today’s ruling has shown that the Government must act very soon to end this unfair situation.

"All three judges agreed that we’re being treated differently because of our sexual orientation, and that this impacts our private and family life.

"All three rejected the argument that we could ‘just get married’.

"All three emphasised that the Government cannot maintain the status quo for much longer – they are on borrowed time."

She added: "We lost on a technicality, that the Government should be allowed a little more time to make a decision.

"So there’s everything to fight for, and much in the ruling that gives us reason to be positive and keep going."

Mr Keidan said: "The Court of Appeal has made it clear the status quo cannot continue.

"The Government should now recognise the benefits of opening civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples.

"The measure is fair, popular, good for families and children, and long overdue.

"They have everything to gain."

In their ruling, Lord Justice Briggs said he could "well understand" the frustration which must be felt by the couple and those who shared their views, about what they regarded as the Government’s slow progress.

"Some couples in their position may suffer serious fiscal disadvantage if, for example, one of them dies before they can form a civil partnership.’

But, like Lord Justice Beatson, he did not regard "micro-management" of the Government’s detailed thinking about the policy as part of the business of the courts.

The couple’s solicitor, Louise Whitfield from Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: " It is deeply disappointing that my clients lost their appeal by such a narrow margin on such an important issue, particularly when all three judges readily accepted that there had been a potential violation of their human rights."

She said they were awaiting an urgent response from the Secretary of State as to her position in response to the judgment, and were preparing an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Education campaigner and journalist Fiona Millar, who has been in a relationship with journalist Alastair Campbell for 35 years and has three adult children, provided a witness statement for the court saying they had chosen not to get married "on principle".

After the ruling, she said: "I am one of thousands and thousands of people in the UK in a mixed-sex relationship who will now be looking at the Government and waiting for them to close the civil partnerships loophole by making them available to all.

"In 2004 the Labour Government, albeit unwittingly, created a new, positive institution with a history, life, and future of its own.

"Now that that institution exists, offering a progressive and new way for couples to gain legal recognition of their relationship, it is only right and fair that that institution be available to all.

"I hope the Government acts soon."

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, who recently introduced a Private Member’s Bill to give mixed-sex couples the right to a civil partnership, said: "T he fact that my Bill for mixed-sex civil partnerships received cross-party backing means the Government has no excuse for delaying the passage of this important and positive change.

"I look forward to the Government bringing forward a Bill to the House, one that I know colleagues in my party and across the House will support."

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who supported the couple in court, said: "This is a defeat for love and equality.

"It will be a huge disappointment to the thousands of heterosexual couples who would like to have a civil partnership."

He added: "It cannot be right that lesbian and gay couples have two options, civil partnership and civil marriage; whereas opposite-sex partners have only one option, marriage.

"This legal case was always about the simple quest to end discrimination and ensure equality for all.

"I hope Charles and Rebecca will appeal this judgment and that justice will prevail in the end."

Sarah Champion, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, said it was "disappointing" news.

"Labour are proud to have introduced civil partnerships in 2004 as a key step in achieving true marriage equality for LGBT people.

"But, now that same sex marriage has been legalised, it is an anomaly that civil partnerships are not available to all couples regardless of their gender and sexuality.

"Civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couples who wish to have a legal union in accordance with their individual beliefs and values.

"Labour will continue to push the Government to look again at this important issue."