Feel The Noize: Civil Liberties, Marriage and Demands for Change 

Published on 02 July, 2018 | James Brown

Readers of this article may consider themselves rather fortunate to live at a time when much of life is rather much easier than for our forebears.

In fact, such has been the pace of change of late that things which were regarded as essentials not too many years ago seem almost ancient and incompatible with contemporary tastes.

I’m not only referring to the impact of technology on our lives but the very way in which our lives are lived.

Take marriage, for instance.

It surprises some clients when I point out to them that the law which governs divorce in England and Wales came into force when Slade was at number one (for the first time) outlining their desire to have Christmas all year-‘round.

Over the 44 years since, much has happened to suggest that both it and other pieces of legislation which impact on family life in this country are ripe for reform.

Successive bulletins from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reinforce how the trio of options for adults in the early 1970s (married, divorced, single) have been overtaken by reality.

The number of marriages taking place each year has fallen by more than a third since then (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/bulletins/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional/2015), while divorce figures amount to something of a break-up bell curve – up 56,000 between 1974 and their peak in 1993 with a drop of similar proportions in the quarter of a century since (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/divorce/bulletins/divorcesinenglandandwales/2016).

We’ve also had the advent of gender equality with the introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, something which acted as a precursor to the provision of full marriage for gays a decade later.

All that has taken place as the popularity of cohabitation (having doubled in the last 20 years) outstrips the rate at which more formal unions are formed (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2017).

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t couples who want to cement their relationships, albeit while stopping short of marriage.

A Supreme Court decision on just that issue has added momentum to demands for change.

Five judges have agreed unanimously that a couple from London who wanted their unmarried relationship to be recognised legally but did not want to marry had been discriminated against because the law doesn’t allow them to have a civil partnership.

That’s because the Civil Partnership Act 2004 only allows such arrangements between same-sex couples.

The ruling is, in my opinion, a step in the right direction but is not a panacea – not least because it still requires a change in the law for the couple concerned to transpose their courtroom win into the civil partnership which they seek.

It may represent a triumph for those combatting discrimination and even, some might say, a victory for common sense.

However, it shows that although the courts are gradually catching up with changes in society, they continue to lag behind.

The next major obstacle which needs to be addressed is the provision of the rights of cohabiting couples.

It is an iniquity which a number of politicians, interest groups and family lawyers like myself are urging the Government to address speedily.

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