What is the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?
Since Theresa May’s announcement at the Conservative Party Conference on 2nd October 2018 that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to choose a civil partnership over getting married, the words on everyone’s lips and prolific internet searches have been “when” and “why”.
“When” – we’re still waiting to get the answer to, and “why”? Well the decision comes three months after Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, won a legal bid at the Supreme Court for the right to have a civil partnership instead of marriage. They had been prevented from having the union because the Civil Partnership Act 2004 said only same-sex couples over the age of 16 were eligible. Civil partnerships were essentially introduced as an interim measure before equal marriage was approved in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Eventually, the Supreme Court found that the Civil Partnerships Act was discriminatory against heterosexual couples, as the Marriage Act was to same-sex couples. Equality rules.
Why would they want the choice of marriage or a civil partnership?
Until we know “when” and the legislation changes, a civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two same-sex people and offers many of the same benefits as a conventional marriage; for example, during their lifetimes, civil partners can transfer assets between each other under the same rules as married couples. However there are crucially some differences without some of the same legal rights.
A civil partnership should not be confused with a civil marriage which means you end up with the same rights as a religious marriage in the eyes of the law, but the ceremony is different. The civil marriage ceremony is conducted by a local council official (registrar), rather than a vicar or priest in a church. The ceremony cannot have any religious content, including any songs or readings.
Incidentally, there’s no such thing as a common law marriage; many unmarried couples in a long-standing relationship believe that they have acquired rights similar to those of married couples but this is not the case, no matter how long a couple have lived together, even if they have children together. In addition to ineligibility for tax exemptions, surviving cohabitants have no automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate, meaning they might not be able to afford to stay in the family home. Unmarried couples also do not have a guaranteed right to ownership of each other’s property if their relationship breaks down.
That was clearly a consideration for the academics Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan from Hammersmith in west London, who have “deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage” and were “not alone” in their views, according to their lawyer. From the point of view of principle and perception there are maybe major differences between civil partnerships and marriage, which is something that clearly Rebecca and Charles had issues with.
The government expected civil partnerships would lose popularity when marriage was made legal for same-sex couples in 2013, but this has not been the case with a second annual increase of 0.2%. There were 908 civil partnerships in England and Wales in 2017 compared to 890 in 2016. London continues to be the most popular region in England and Wales to register a civil partnership every year since 2005, with more than a quarter in the city. Much of the increase is down to a major increase in the number of women, conversely the number of civil partnerships formed by men has decreased in 2017 by 0.8% according to the Office of National Statistics.
So, what are those legal rights differences when legislation eventually changes? Historically, marriage certificates only name the fathers of both parties, whereas civil partnerships name both parents. For legal purposes, civil partners can not call themselves “married”. In marriage, it’s grounds for divorce if one party is unfaithful, but this is not the case for civil partnerships where adultery can not be used as a reason to dissolve the partnership. Similarly with these terminological differences of divorce (marriage) and dissolution (civil partnership), a venereal disease can not be grounds of dissolution in a civil partnership. This is because the law still recognises sexual intercourse as an act between two people of the opposite sex. That is no doubt something else the government will have to look at in the future, but in the meantime, as a leading wedding and civil partnership venue in London, we echo the couple’s joy and await the celebration.
Great news that the Government has promised to extend civil partnerships to all. We literally can’t wait. Please set your date to legislate, so we can set our dates to celebrate! @theresa_may @PennyMordaunt @sajidjavid @EqualCPs #equalcivilpartnerships #equallove pic.twitter.com/rLNYmsO3oZ
— Dr Rebecca Steinfeld (@beccasteinfeld) October 2, 2018