The Civil Partnership Act / by Mark Weber

OnePlusOne exists to strengthen relationships and share knowledge and information about the changing nature of relationships. Over our 40 years we have seen many big cultural changes in both couple relationships and family formation.

Cohabiting, now the norm, used to be termed ‘living in sin’, divorce has lost much of its stigma, and step families are the largest growing family type.

As marriage rates have declined, people have found new ways to celebrate commitment and being a family – from publicly renewing their vows with friends to baby naming days rather than traditional christenings.

One of the most significant changes of the last decade has been the Civil Partnership Act.

The act came into effect on 5th December 2005, allowing same sex couples to have legal recognition of their relationship. Gay couples could have the new legal status of “Civil Partners”, instead of the traditional husband and wife status.

This move was met with some controversy; religious groups spoke out against civil partnerships, and some heterosexual couples in cohabiting relationships argued that they do not receive the same rights as ‘married’ same sex couples.

However the Civil Partnership Act proved very popular; over 18,000 couples took the plunge between December 2005 and the end of December 2006. A further 8,728 civil partnership ceremonies then took place during 2007.

The number of civil partnerships between same-sex couples has leveled off since these initial high levels of uptake with around 6,000 ceremonies now taking place year on year since 2007.

Why introduce Equal Civil Marriage?  Differences between Civil Partnerships and Civil Marriages

Although a civil partnership is essentially seen as a “gay marriage”, there are some key differences.

  • A civil marriage almost always contains religious aspects during the ceremony- the word marriage is a religious word in itself.
  • A member of the clergy can perform civil marriages, whereas only specified registrars can perform a civil partnership.

But there are also similarities between the two.

  • In both a civil partnership and a civil marriage, couples are required to give public notice of their intentions.
  • The records of both are kept as official and public documents with the registry offices.

The key facts on the equal civil marriage consultation.

In 2011 the ban on civil partnerships taking place on religious premises was lifted. The government then went on to launch its consultation on Equal Civil Marriage this March looking at how to enable same sex couples to have a civil marriage.

This will run till June 14th and only look at civil marriage ceremonies that are held in either registry offices or other approved premises, not in churches.

The government states they are taking this move because they want to promote greater choice. Recognising that the commitment of same sex couples in a civil partnership is the same as the commitment made by heterosexual couples in a civil marriage hence it makes no sense to ban same sex couples from getting married through a civil ceremony.

Despite negative press and confusion, this is not about undermining or changing religious marriage – a religious ceremony on religious premises will continue only tobe legally possible between a man and a woman. Civil partnerships will remain as being for same sex couples only.

OnePlusOne would encourage as broad a range of parties as possible to respond to the consultation, so the debate is not one between the media, faith groups and gay community alone.

The equal civil marriage consultation has now concluded, but to read the official response and report click here.