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When same-sex marriage was introduced in 2013, civil partnerships (civil marriages in all but name) – which were introduced in the 2000s by the new Labour Government – technically became obsolete for those in a romantic relationship, but the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 stayed on the statute book.

That means that in 2018, same-sex partners – or even same-sex platonic friends – who wish to formalise their relationship, with all the corresponding rights that comes from it, have two methods of doing so, whereas couples in a heterosexual relationship only have one.

To Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan – a heterosexual couple who disapprove of the “patriarchal baggage” associated with marriage – this represents an injustice. And recently, they received the legal recognition they have been seeking. In June, by a unanimous vote, the five judges of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United Kingdom, ruled that the Government’s refusal to allow opposite sex couples to have civil partnerships ‘incompatible’ with human rights law.

The government is now reviewing the Civil Partnerships Act, and it is thought that civil partnerships will soon be extended to couples in heterosexual relationships.

Some believe, though, that extending the legislation to include heterosexual romantic couples would amount to gross discrimination against one minority group: cohabiting blood relatives.

Where heterosexual couples can get married, and homosexual couples can get married or enter a civil partnership, committed, loving, financially interdependent cohabiting siblings don’t have any legal method through which to formalise their relationship. This means they are exempt from the rights afforded to civil partners and married couples; most importantly the right to inherit a joint tenancy, and the right to pass on a jointly owned home to each other free of inheritance tax.

Although there is nothing in the law to dictate that civil partnerships must be between people in a sexual relationship, because the legislation was historically used as a proxy for same-sex marriage, cohabiting siblings remain exempt.

A Private Members’ Bill which had its second reading in The House of Lords last week intends to address the issue by “amend[ing] the Civil Partnership Act 2004 [CPA] to include sibling couples”. Lord Lexden, the Conservative Peer who introduced this Siblings Couple Bill, explains its purpose thus:

“Civil partnerships recognise in clear legal terms the value of close mutually supportive relationships outside traditional marriage. The exclusion of cohabiting blood relations from the right to form one is discriminatory. [The] Bill would begin the process of correcting a serious injustice. The rights that a civil partnership confers—inheritance of joint tenancies and pension rights, and of property free from tax—should be available to all long-term, financially inter-dependent cohabiting partners.

[The] Bill represents the first step towards fairness and legal equality for platonic cohabitees by extending eligibility for civil partnerships to siblings over 30 years of age who have lived together continuously for twelve years.”

The Government Minister who responded to Lord Lexden’s speech disagreed with the principle of the Siblings Couple Bill, on the grounds that because civil partnerships were originally intended for same-sex couples, it would be strange to open them up to cohabiting siblings. Although she, along with every other Peer who spoke in the debate, agreed that the rights of cohabiting siblings merited further discussion.

Five years after the introduction of same-sex marriage, it is right that the government is launching a review of civil partnerships. But, as both the Keidan and Steinfeld case and Lord Lexden’s bill shows, retrospectively adapting – rather than, say, scrapping – the 2004 Civil Partnership Act to make it fit for 2018 Britain is going to be tough.

Olivia Utley is Communications Manager at Bright Blue. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.