Civil Partnerships and Marriage: Open to Everyone

20th April 2020
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The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in England and Wales on 5 December 2005, enabling same-sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship by forming a civil partnership. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 saw the first marriages of same-sex couples take place on 29 March 2014 in England and Wales.

There followed active campaigning for civil partnerships to be available to mixed-sex couples as an alternative to marriage.

A Long Road to Civil Partnership

In June 2018, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won their legal bid for the right to enter a civil partnership instead of a marriage. This Supreme Court ruling represented a successful challenge to the 2004 Act, which had prevented mixed-sex couples from entering a civil partnership.  The Supreme Court deemed the Civil Partnership Act 2004 incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and also criticised the government for spending years investigating how inequality between same-sex and mixed-sex couples could be eliminated. To many people, the answer was simple: the Civil Partnership Act 2004 simply needed broadening.

In September 2018 the Government Equalities Office commissioned a survey to assess the level of demand for mixed-sex couples to form a civil partnership. All the participants were mixed-sex couples who were not already married. The survey found that 36% of participants were interested in forming a civil partnership and that 46% of those wished to do so within the next 2 years.

In October 2018 as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, a groundswell of public opinion, and pressure from equality activists, local Sussex MP Tim Loughton succeeded in pushing his Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill 2017-19 through a Third Reading in Parliament and the Bill received Royal Assent on 26 March 2019.

The first mixed-sex civil partnerships were entered on 31 December 2019, with Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan among the first to do so. At last, both mixed-sex couples and same-sex couples were able to choose to formalise their relationships through either marriage or civil partnership.

What are the similarities and differences between civil partnership and marriage?

  • Essentially those in a civil partnership benefit from the same rights as married couples in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.
  • There are no religious connotations attached to civil partnerships which makes them attractive to non-religious couples who want legal recognition of their relationship.
  • The civil partnership ceremony does not involve an exchange of vows and is valid once both parties have signed the civil partnership document.
  • If you wish to end a civil partnership, this is known as dissolution rather than divorce, and adultery cannot be used as reasoning.

A full table setting out the similarities and differences between civil partnership and marriage for both same-sex and mixed-sex couples can be found on the government website using the following link:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/marriage-and-civil-partnership-in-england-and-wales