Be civil to siblings

"The government seems to have set itself on a course to discriminate against one minority group: cohabiting blood relatives"

Olivia Utley

When same-sex marriage was introduced in 2013, civil partnerships (civil marriages in all but name) became obsolete for those in a romantic relationship. But because reversing legislation is a time-consuming and expensive process, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 stayed on the statute book.

Practically speaking, it means that in 2018 same-sex partners — or even same-sex platonic friends — who wish to formalise their relationship have two methods of doing so, whereas couples in a heterosexual relationship have only one.

After a legal challenge from a heterosexual couple who consider this to be discrimination, the government is now reviewing the Civil Partnerships Act, and it is thought that civil partnerships will soon be extended to all couples, regardless of sexuality.

But in bending over backwards to accommodate everyone, the government seems to have set itself on a course of action which would result in gross discrimination against one minority group: cohabiting blood relatives.

Where heterosexual couples can get married, and homosexual couples can get married or enter a civil partnership, committed, loving, financially interdependent cohabiting siblings don’t have any legal method through which to formalise their relationships.

This means they are exempt from the rights afforded to civil partners and married couples: most importantly, the right to inherit a joint tenancy, and the right to pass on a jointly-owned home to each other free of inheritance tax.

In the case of my mother and aunt (who have lived together all their lives and brought me up as co-parents) this means that if one of them died, the bereaved sister would have to sell our family home immediately to pay the inheritance tax on the deceased sister’s share. According to our calculations, the sum the government would extract from her would be roughly equal to the original joint mortgage they took out in 1995.

Bills to address this arbitrary discrimination never get far. Every time the matter comes up, the government doggedly argues that because civil partnerships were historically used as a proxy for same-sex marriage, opening them up to siblings would be demeaning to sexually-active gay civil partners.

As someone who was brought up by two loving, committed and financially interdependent siblings, this line has never sat right with me. Platonic bonds between siblings who have chosen to live together for life are just as strong as romantic bonds between couples — and suggesting that the former one is inferior to the latter because of sex seems bizarre. 

What’s more, if the legislation were to be introduced, any offended gay civil partners would be entirely free to “upgrade” their civil partnership to a marriage — a course of action (quite rightly) denied to siblings. 

Put simply, as the situation stands, all siblings in platonic relationships who choose to live together as friends/companions/co-parents are denied all basic legal safeguards and fiscal protections. If the government is going to allow this mindless discrimination to continue, it must think up some better excuses.

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