A couple who won a legal bid at the Supreme Court in 2018 for the right to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage, have become one of the first to tie the knot in a civil ceremony.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan were accompanied by their two children at Kensington and Chelsea Register Office today, where they told reporters of the “unique, special and personal moment” they had all just shared.
Steinfeld added: “We’ve been able to affirm our love and commitment to one another in the company of our beautiful children, Eden and Ariel, and close friends.
“Our personal wish to form a civil partnership was rooted in our desire to formalise our relationship in a more modern way, focus on equality, and mutual respect.”
With the legislation change allowing the first ceremonies to take place from New Year’s Eve, the couple are among many seeking to take advantage of the change in law as soon as possible.
Julie Thorpe, 61, and Keith Lomax, 70, from near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, have been living together for most of their relationship, have three children, and are having a civil partnership ceremony at a register office in Halifax.
Thorpe said: “It won’t change our relationship one jot. It will not make any difference to how we behave towards each other when we get up the next day.
“We have had a very successful relationship for 37 years and a bit of paper is not going to make any difference to that whatsoever. It does give us some legal protection within that relationship.”
But what exactly is a civil partnership and how is it different from getting married?
The church, the dress, the exchange of rings in the eyes of God – the “traditional” Christian wedding has long been the staple of unions in the UK, but it’s not for everyone.
Anyone looking for an alternative can choose a civil marriage, without the religious baggage – but still requiring partners to say a prescribed form of words (I, Harry, take you, Sally, etc etc...) in a ceremony of some sort.
Before 2014, gay couples couldn’t get married in either fashion in the UK but did have another option that was introduced by law in in 2004 – the civil partnership.
The Civil Partnership Act
A civil partnership requires no prescribed form of words, only the signing of a document.
Of course, if you do want to say something or have a massive party or non-religious ceremony, that is entirely up to you.
Until now, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 said only same-sex couples were eligible: heterosexual couples only had the options of marriage (either sort) or living together, which affords no legal protections.
In the UK, Rebecca Steinfeld, 35, and Charles Keidan, 40 – a couple who have long-campaigned for the change in law – object to the “patriarchal baggage” associated with marriage, but still want legal recognition of their seven-year relationship.
And there are other advantages.
Comedian Katherine Ryan travelled to Denmark this year to enter into a civil partnership with her childhood sweetheart Bobby Kootstra.
She told The Jonathan Ross Show this month: “It’s perfect having a civil partner. We didn’t have a wedding, I didn’t need to put on a white dress and pretend to be a virgin – that ship has sailed!”
The legal differences
Things not working out as you planned? Well there’s less scope for annulling your civil partnership then there is with a marriage.
For some reason, you can’t annul a civil partnership if, at the time of entering into it, one party “was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form” – but you can in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.
Civil partners can still lay out the terms of a possible separation, except it’s known as a pre-registration agreement.
The legal similarities
Joint bank accounts operate the same. And just like when you’re married, if civil partners have separate bank accounts and one dies, the bank may allow the other to withdraw any money left in the account.
In the absence of a will, the death of a civil partner will allow the other to inherit some or possibly all of their property.
The government has a handy little quiz you can do to find out where you stand.
Debt operates the same regardless of marriage, civil partnership or co-habitation.
According to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, for debts in joint names or for which you have “joint and several” legal responsibility, responsibility is shared. For example, in England and Wales, if you owe council tax, you and your partner will both be responsible for the debt, regardless of whose name it’s in and whether one or both of you has contributed to it in the past.
And if you’ve acted as a guarantor for a partner’s debt, you will still be liable even if you split up.
Entering into a civil partnership means both parties have a legal responsibility to support one another financially when their civil partnership has ended, just as in marriage.
This is up to the individuals to decide but if no agreement is reached it you could end up in court to wrangle over the details.
Like a marriage, in a civil partnership both partners have a right to remain in a home, regardless of who bought it or has a mortgage on it.
These home rights apply until a court orders otherwise.
According to the Citizens Advice Bureau: “If you’re in an opposite-sex civil partnership, you’ll automatically have parental responsibility for your partner’s child if you’re the child’s mother or father.
“If you’re not the child’s mother or father, you’ll be the step-parent. This will not give you automatic parental responsibility for the child, but you can get it by making a parental responsibility agreement or applying for a court order.
“Both birth parents are responsible for supporting a child financially. This applies whether or not they are living together and whether or not a parent has legal parental responsibility.
“You will also have financial responsibility for a child you have adopted. This applies whether you are in a civil partnership or simply living with your partner.
“If you are a step-parent, you will also have financial responsibility for your child. However, you can’t be asked to pay financial support by the Child Maintenance Service.”
If you are a civil partner, you may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.
You can claim bereavement benefits or, in some cases, a retirement pension, based on your partner’s national insurance contributions.
Other benefits – for example, Personal Independence Payment and Attendance Allowance – are not affected by whether or not you are a civil partner.
Means-tested benefits, including child benefit, could be affected if your partner moves in, but getting married or entering into a civil partnership won’t affect them further.
A word from a registrar...
Steve Quayle, East Sussex County Council team manager for registration, said: “There are many couples who want to show their commitment to a relationship, but don’t feel marriage is right for them.
“This change in legislation means they can celebrate their relationship and benefit from the legal rights without a marriage ceremony.
“For some, this change in the law has been a long time coming and we want to make sure they can mark this milestone by entering into a civil partnership as soon as possible, which is why our registrars will be available from midnight on December 31.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.