UK Couple Sues for Right to Civil Union Instead of Marriage

Here’s a new twist on the heated debate we have here in California regarding civil unions vs. marriage. The ABA Journal reports that a straight couple in the UK are suing for the right to tie the knot in a civil union rather than in marriage.

Over the past few years here in California, the state has gone from expanding the Family Code to permit same-sex couples to register as domestic partners with the same rights and privileges as spouses, to the Supreme Court determining that marriage for same-sex couples was a constitutional right, to Proposition 8 which amended the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. And the story is still unfolding in the courts. Currently, Proposition 8 has been found to violate the federal constitution on multiple grounds, and an appeal is working its way through the appellate courts.

Gay couples across the country, and around the world, have long argued that they should be entitled to marry, just as straight couples have the right to marry, instead of being forced to settle for civil unions or domestic partnerships. Opponents, led by religious groups such as the Mormon church, strongly oppose this argument and argue that marriage has “always been” between a man and a woman, and that permitting same-sex couples the right to marry would impose rules on churches that violate their dogma. They insist that same-sex couples are offered the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples through civil unions, just under a different name. (Note: although at the federal level, same-sex civil partners are not offered the same marital tax benefits as opposite-sex spouses.)

In this new twist, a straight couple have been denied a civil union in the UK because they are not a same-sex couple. “In our day-to-day life we feel like civil partners—we don’t feel like husband and wife, and we want the government to recognize that,” says Katherine Doyle. She and her partner, Tom Freeman, argue that a civil partnership under British law is more in keeping with their personal style, even though marriage and civil unions provide the same benefits.

Gay rights activists believe that a win in this case would likely help encourage the right of same-sex couples to wed. Regardless of which side of the argument you support, this will be a fascinating story to watch unfold in the coming months.