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Q: What is the difference between marriage and civil partnerships?

A: There is very little difference in legal terms between marriage and civil partnerships, with both conferring the same rights on things like tax, inheritance and pension provision.

But, the history, expectations, and cultural baggage of the two institutions is very different. Many couples can make a marriage work, but for some people – especially women – marriage is seen as carrying far too much patriarchal baggage: the idea that the man would own his wife, given away to him by the father of the bride. Still today marriage certificates only have space for the names of the fathers of the bride and groom, whereas civil partnerships include the name of both parents. And in the ceremony partners have to say the words “I take you to be my wife…I take you to be my husband.”

Of course these trappings could be taken away but doing so would not erase the history of marriage and the baggage it carries. That history makes many couples feel uncomfortable at the idea of entering a marriage but we believe that choice should not mean they are denied legal and financial protection.



Parental rights:

Cohabiting: Unmarried mother automatically has parental responsibility for the child unless the father jointly registers the birth of the child with the mother (for births after December 2003), they arrange a “parental responsibility agreement” with the mother, or they get a “parental responsibility order” from a court.

Married: Both mother and father automatically have parental responsibility for the child. In the event of divorce, either person can also be ordered to pay maintenance to their former spouse if they were financially dependent on them.

Civil partners: Same-sex civil partners do not automatically have parental responsibility for their partner’s children but they can apply for it through the courts. If you are in a civil partnership with the mother at the time of birth, or where you have an agreement with the child’s mother, you can apply for parental responsibility.


Cohabiting: no right for couples to claim pension provisions on seperation; and no right to claim state pension on death.

Married: on divorce spouses are automatically entitled to equal benefits from occupational pension schemes and on death former spouses may be able to claim a state retirement pension based on their partner’s national insurance contribution.

Civil partners: Same as for married couples.

Inheritance tax: 

Cohabiting: Couples will have to pay any inheritance tax when a property passes between couples when one partner dies and decrees in their Will that property should pass to their partner.

Married: Married couples are exempt from inheritance tax when properties pass to their spouse whilst on divorce the divorce settlement will outline how property is to be transferred but generally in transfers between spouses it will be exempt from inheritance tax.

Civil partners: Same as for married couples.

Grounds for divorce or dissolution:

Cohabiting: N/A

Married: A marriage can be ended by divorce if it can be proved that the relationship has broken down irreparably evidenced by one of the following: adultery; unreasonable behaviour; desertion for two years; separation for two years (with respondent’s consent); separation for five years (no consent required).

Civil partners: Rules for a dissolution of a civil partnership are the same as those for marriage except adultery cannot be used as evidence.

Q: Isn’t marriage more stable than a civil partnership?

A: A marriage formed in 2005 had a 5.5% chance of ending in divorce by 2010 whereas a civil partnership had a 2.5% chance. We went to offer stability and protection to all couples and it is apparent that extending civil partnerships is a way to achieve that.

Q: Outcomes for children are better in marriage – shouldn’t we just protect that institution?

A: If there is any causal link between marriage and child outcomes it is because a marriage provides financial and legal security which is a vital bedrock to a successful relationship. Relationships which lack financial security are more likely to breakdown. That is why we want that security and protection extended to as many couples as possible.

Q: Won’t it cost a lot to make this change?

A: We only need to make a very small number of changes to an existing piece of legislation. The costs will be minimal. The current situation is likely to be more costly – imposing a net hardship on couples who separate, on their children, and on the state which has to step in to provide financial support to those who find themselves without income or financial protection.

Q: Are there other countries where you can get a mixed-sex civil partnership?

A: Yes. They include Finland, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Belgium, Brazil, Uruguay, Portugal, Australia, and South Africa.

Q: I’m worried that civil partnerships undermine marriage

A: If anything civil partnerships can support the institution of marriage: in the UK 13% of same-sex civil partnerships have already been converted to marriage now that same-sex couples can get married.

Extending civil partnerships simply extends choice. It creates a new form of legal recognition for partnerships, recognising the diversity of relationship types, rather than establishing a “rival” to marriage. Those who want to get married will still marry. Those who do not will choose to have a civil partnership or not legal recognition at all – but for us it is all about having that choice in place.

Q: If we’re going to get rid of civil partnerships, surely there is no point?

A: The government has already got two great institutions: civil partnerships and marriage. Removing either would be a detriment to choice and to freedom of expression. We should be extending the opportunities to enter these legal partnerships to all, not taking a step back. The most costly option would be to get rid of civil partnerships: it will require extensive consultation, rewriting of the law, and probably a number of legal cases as those in civil partnerships currently will want to challenge the change in the law.

Q: Won’t this only affect a small number of couples?

A: Even if it did, that wouldn’t make this the wrong thing to do. But, we argue that actually there are a huge number of people this could affect: 3 million cohabiting different-sex couples to start with and that’s not counting the number of different-sex couples who do not live together. This could be a really big and positive change.

Q: Do you support extending civil partnerships to siblings?

A: Our campaign is purely focused on ensuring that the evident need and desire to extend the legal protections guaranteed by civil partnerships to different sex couples is delivered. It would not be right or fair of us to comment on wider issues of family law when there are other organisations looking at these issues.




Image: London Overground by August Brill on Flickr[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]