A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people.
At present, the law in England and Wales permits same-sex couples to marry (same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014 with the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013) or enter a civil partnership (legalised by the Civil Partnership Act 2004) but only allows mixed-sex couples to marry.
The Supreme Court has now determined that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. As such, Theresa May has announced that mixed-sex couples are now going to be allowed to have civil partnerships.
The proposed change comes after the Supreme Court, in June, ruled in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, who wanted to be allowed to have a civil partnership. They, like many others, felt that marriage did not fit with their ideologies. Unlike marriage, civil partnership has no historical connection to religion or the church. For some, the fact that marriage is steeped in patriarchal tradition (with the woman being “offered up” or “given away” to the man and for her to thereafter “obey” him) is offensive and does not sit comfortably with the idea and desire for both parties to a legal union to be recognised as entering it willingly and equally.
The process of entering into a civil partnership is straightforward; with no need to exchange vows and the union becoming valid after both parties simply sign the civil partnership document.
Those in a civil partnership benefit from the same rights as married couples in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance.
When it comes to ending a civil partnership, the dissolution process is similar to divorce (save that adultery cannot be relied upon for the breakdown of the relationship) and the partners have the same financial claims against each other as married couples.
Whilst there are now more ways than ever to legalise your relationship, there are around 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK who have not done so. Of concern is that many of these couples wrongly believe they possess the same or similar rights and protections to those enjoyed by husbands, wives and civil partners. This is simply not so, and campaigners will now need to redouble their efforts to encourage changes to the law which give greater protections to these couples and their children.