We have been reading with interest today’s news that the government might be seeking to abolish civil partnerships altogether in order to ensure that opposite-sex couples, who cannot presently enter into a civil partnership, are not discriminated against when compared with same-sex couples, who can enter into civil partnerships. This follows a challenge by an opposite-sex couple to the current civil partnership rules which is before the Supreme Court this week.
History, it seems, tends to repeat itself. Back in the 1990s, while it was possible for certain opposite-sex partners of British nationals to obtain leave to remain based upon their unmarried relationship, it was not possible for same-sex partners to do so. Wesley Gryk, our senior partner, assisted a gay couple to challenge this discriminatory situation in a case before the then Immigration Appeal Tribunal (nowadays the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)) called Lizarzaburu v Secretary of State for the Home Department 19 April 1994 (unreported). The Tribunal urged the Home Office to extend the unmarried partners concession to same-sex relationships.
In its wisdom, on 22 February 1996, the Home Office decided to withdraw the unmarried partners concession altogether, thereby maintaining “equality” by preventing both gay and straight couples from benefiting from the provision. Everyone was equally shut out from this route until the following year when the concession was restored following tireless campaigning by the Stonewall Immigration Group (now the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group).
Wesley is writing a detailed account of the history of the battle for equality in immigration law during the 1990s to be published later this month which in fact is the 25th anniversary of the first meeting of the Stonewall Immigration Group. For now, though, we think that the most important lesson the government should take from this “mirror image” situation of that prevailing in the 1990s is that the best way to promote equality is not to restrict the choices we have in life but rather to extend them as widely as possible. The only hint of progress one can perhaps deduce from the present situation is that, this time around, gay men, lesbians and bisexual people find themselves with more rights than their straight counterparts, which rights are now under threat, a situation which would have been unthinkable 25 years ago.