More people should be allowed to benefit from ‘spousal’ privileges
Five years after same-sex couples secured the right to marry, opposite-sex couples have won the right not to. In June the Supreme Court unanimously agreed, in the case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, that allowing gay couples but not straight couples to enter into civil partnerships was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Supreme Court cannot make laws, though, and so the fate of those who did not wish to marry was left undetermined.
Theresa May has now launched a consultation into how civil partnerships can be extended to include opposite-sex couples.
This will come as welcome news to millions of Britons who live, to all intents and purposes, as husband and wife – they may have shared finances, children, a home – but don’t want to get married.
Take “silver splitters”. While the number of divorces has plunged in recent decades to its lowest level since 1973, the proportion of married couples aged 55-plus who are going their separate ways has more than doubled. With properties, pensions and offspring to consider – not to mention the rising cost of divorce – it doesn’t take much imagination to understand why this booming group might not want to remarry. More than half of people who enter civil partnerships are over 50, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Then there are those couples who dislike the institutional baggage of marriage (Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan rejected what they called its “historically patriarchal nature”; to this day marriage certificates require the names of the fathers of the parties but not the mothers).
There are also those who don’t want to make promises to each other (“formal wording” is a necessary part of a marriage ceremony but civil partners don’t need to exchange vows).
Whatever the reason for their choice, there are 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK (of whom around 1.2 million have children), who have been left at a financial disadvantage. Sarah Coles of Hargreaves Lansdown, an investment firm, estimated that a typical couple married for 50 years could be £190,000 better off than a couple who had never tied the knot – even accounting for the £27,000 average cost of a wedding.
This is because there are many perks extended to married couples and civil partners. A person on a low income can pass £1,190 of their personal tax-free allowance to their higher-earning spouse, cutting their tax bill by £238 a year. Wedded folk can also transfer assets to a lowerearning spouse who benefits from higher tax-free thresholds when it comes to dividend income, capital gains and savings, and can contribute to each other’s Isas and pensions, which come with further tax relief.
Death brings perhaps the greatest benefit extended to married couples and civil partners. Spouses are protected if their partner dies without a will, and they also take
Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld on the day the Supreme Court agreed that they should be allowed to enter a civil partnership