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Couple from Belsize Park: Why we’re fighting for the right to have civil partnership

Court of Appeal to decide whether civil partnerships should be extended to heterosexual couples

10 November, 2016 — By Dan Carrier

Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld

A COUPLE from Belsize Park are spearheading a bid to change the law so they can have a civil partnership, an option currently only open to gay and lesbian couples.

Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld are waiting for a judgment after challenging the government in the Court of Appeal during a three-day hearing last week.

They want the law reformed so that civil partnerships, introduced in 2004, are made available to all couples.

Their bid has been backed by education writer Fiona Millar and her partner, former Labour Party communications chief Alastair Campbell, who have lived together for 36 years without marrying.

Mr Keidan, who worked as a volunteer for more than a decade at Queen’s Crescent Community Centre and was on its board as a trustee, met Ms Steinfeld, an academic, at a lecture at the London School of Economics six years ago. The couple, who have a child aged 17 months, say they are engaged to be civil partners.

“We basically proposed to each other,” said Mr Keidan. “We wanted to formalise our commitment to one another and find a way to cement our relationship in law.

“We assumed civil partnerships would soon become available to all. We felt a civil partnership better reflected who we are, as it is a straightforward, modern contract without the association of marriage. It gives protections to us as a family.”

The government is against the proposed change.

The couple’s legal action has been moving slowly through the UK courts. In January, High Court judge Justice Andrews said the case was of public importance and deserved to be heard at a higher court.

Mr Keidan added: “The judge said many people regard the situation as unfair, but not unlawful.”

Their attempts to have the law changed has widespread support, from political parties to human rights campaigners.

An online petition has now reached nearly 80,000 signatures while lawyers at the celebrated Matrix Chambers have taken on the case.

Mr Keidan added: “Marriage is important and meaningful for many people. We respect that, but we feel it is just not right for us. What we want is to be part of a straightforward contract that provides us with protection for ourselves, and does not have the associations marriage has.

“For us, that means the historical baggage of marriage – for example, the fact there is only room for the names of the fathers of the couple on the marriage certificate. A civil partnership means being partners in law as well as in life.”

The Isle of Man recently introduced the right of opposite-sex couples to have civil partnerships and the first ceremony took place there last month.

Mr Keidan said: “It would be very straightforward to bring into law, requiring them to simply remove the word ‘same sex’ from the legislation regarding civil partnerships.”

A government spokes­person said: “We are clear that the current system of marriage and civil partnership does not disadvantage opposite-sex couples, nor does it infringe anyone’s right to family or private life.”

Fiona and Alastair, happy to be unmarried for 36 years

JOURNALIST Fiona Millar told the New Journal why she and her partner, Alastair Campbell, were backing the couple’s campaign, writes Dan Carrier.

“We have been together for 36 years, and I am more resistant than Alastair to the idea of a wedding,” she said. “I just felt the institution of marriage was not for me. It was patriarchal. I want to remain an independent woman.

“The language of marriage is of one man passing a woman onto another man. I felt I wanted to keep my name. Before civil partnerships existed, there was not an alternative but now they do it is crucial they are offered to everyone.”

The couple, who have three children and live in Gospel Oak, have already made wills that take away potential problems over what happens to their estate if one should die. Currently, couples who cohabit lack the same protection as those who are married, with a partner facing hefty inheritance tax bills if the other dies first and they jointly own a property.

Ms Millar added: “We have already split everything evenly between us, but for others there is the issue of inheritance tax. You can pass assets between husband and wife without inheritance tax. You should be able to have a contract that does the same thing. There are also issues over the father’s rights to children should the couple split up.”

She felt government objections made little sense, adding: “It seems incredible that the Equalities Minister [Conservative MP Justine Greening] has gone to court and spent thousands of pounds to stop a move that would create more equality, that would also be better for families and for children, especially from a government that claims to care about family life.”

As to whether she and Alastair would seek a civil partnership if the law was changed, she is undecided. “We might, but I am not doing this for my benefit but for younger couples in this situation,” she said. “It is very unfair.”

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