A couple who led the charge to become civil partners rather than husband and wife are among thousands making history by entering into civil partnerships.
New Year’s Eve marks the first time heterosexual couples can tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of a marriage, following a lengthy legal battle that changed UK law.
Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan were among the first to enter into a mixed-sex union, signing their civil partnership registration at Kensington and Chelsea Register Office at 10.30am.
The couple won a legal bid at the Supreme Court in 2018, saying that a civil partnership felt more equal to them than a traditional marriage.
The option was previously only available to same-sex couples, but campaigners successfully argued that denying a mixed-sex couple the same right was discrimination.
“Today, as one decade ends and another dawns, we become civil partners in law,” Ms Steinfeld, 38, told reporters outside the building.
“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.
“So today is a unique, special and personal moment for us, a moment that 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.
“And have that love and commitment given legal recognition in a way that best reflects who we are, what we love and the life we value.”
Civil partners will have similar rights and entitlements as married couples, such as marriage allowance tax relief, exemption from inheritance tax and joint parental responsibility for children.
Eligible for same-sex couples since 2005, the right for a civil partnership was extended after Theresa May’s government approved the change of law, which came into effect on December 2.
As couples are required to give 28 days notice to register their intent for a civil partnership, the first ceremonies will be taking place across England and Wales from today – December 31.
Another couple delighted to have become civil partners on Tuesday is Ann “Pee-Wee” Chamings and John Eccles, who have been together for 43 years.
Ms Chamings said the East Sussex pair were “absolutely happy” following their service at Hastings Town Hall, where they were joined by their two children and walked in to Be My Baby by The Ronettes.
“It’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, I think marriage is fine for some people, but it has connotations of patriarchal and religious associations that really didn’t suit us,” the 70-year-old told the PA news agency.
“This now gives us rights, we now finally have the rights that other people had, this has been common in Europe for years.
“Thanks to Rebecca and Charles, we’ve got those rights too.”
Mr Keidan, 43, acknowledged the difficulties of the five-year legal battle as they celebrated outside of the register office alongside their two children.
He told reporters: “Becca and I have shared much joy in supporting each other through the strains of life and loss.
“Against all odds, we succeeded in a legal battle against the government and then, they did what we asked for all along. Not many people can say that.
“But we both know with everything gained, some things risk being lost, or at least unspoken.
“Through this long journey and hard-fought battle, our mental health has suffered, our ability to be civil to each other has been tested, and crucially, we missed out on that important moment to state clearly what we mean to each other, not just what we’ve become in the eyes of others.”
The academics, who live in Hammersmith, west London, suffered defeat at the Court of Appeal, but were given the go-ahead for a Supreme Court hearing in August 2018.
The panel of Supreme Court justices, including the court’s president, Lady Hale, heard the couple’s case in May, and judges held the Civil Partnership Act 2004 Act was “incompatible” with human rights laws on discrimination and family life.
Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss said: “Congratulations to all the couples who are having their civil partnerships today.
“I am proud that we have helped give thousands across the country the option to have a civil partnership and celebrate their union in a way that works for them.”