Civil Partnership vs Marriage; God Knows what the Difference is

If you were involved in the call for equal marriage in the UK, you might know the ins and outs of it, or have heard them from someone you think knew what they were talking about. If you campaigned for equality based on your own desire for a specific right you were missing, hopefully you were sure you were missing it. This might sound silly, but from a lawyer’s perspective, this is the basics. So now we have, in the UK, Civil Partnership, Different-Sex Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage (in force 2014). So now that you’re confused, here are the ins and outs of the three. I hope you’re blessed enough to have someone to use them with, if that’s your sort of thing.
The Differences

  • To register a civil partnership, the participants must be of the same sex
  • When dissolving a civil partnership, adultery is not one of the included grounds, as it is for marriage, due to the traditional legal and ideological definitions behind adultery. [Small print: adultery is almost never used even in cases of non-consensual outside relationships in marriage. Usually irreconcilable difference is used, or unacceptable behaviour, because, well, yeah.]
  • Civil partnership can only be a civil, and not religious, procedure, whereas opposite-sex couples can, in relevant circumstances, choose to have either a religious or a civil marriage ceremony.
  • Consummation is not a criterion for legal validity (as it is in marriage); however, infidelity may be a contributory factor where ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is cited as a ground for seeking dissolution of a civil partnership.
    • NB: Though consummation is still on the books as a criterion for legal validity in marriage, it has not been enforced for years for a whole variety of reasons (social expectations, frequency of sex before marriage, the idea of the state dictating the acts of consenting adults, etc.). This is worth noting here as the the enforcement of this requirement is traditionally tied to the idea of pregnancy, and as such heteronormative, vaginal sex. It probably shouldn’t still exist, and it is treated as a bit of an anachronism.
      • For a complicated legal explanation as to why it may have even been invalidated by loads of legal development, including the Same Sex Marriage Act, consult google or wikipedia on lex posteriat derogat priori.
  • There are differences in procedure: a civil partnership is formed when the second partner signs the relevant document, whereas a civil marriage is formed when the couple exchange spoken words and then the register is signed.
The Likenesses
  • Everything else…
Really? Is that it?
Well, pretty much. The above is actually based on the differences between Different-Sex marriage and Civil Partnership, but Same-Sex Marriage in the 2013 Act is effectively the same as different sex, including that the Act’s enforcement will enable married individuals to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage. Civil partnerships can also now be converted into marriages, meaning that post 2014 CPs will be largely redundant.
So, less confused now? Good, they actually did a reasonable job on not killing any more law students with this one, so I hope you’re as comfy with it as I am 🙂

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