Civil partnership

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A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship between two people of the same sex. Civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and give almost all the same rights and responsibilities as civil marriage. The first civil partnerships were formed in December 2005.

The main differences from civil marriage are as follows:

  • the partnership is formed by the signing of the register, not by saying certain words (and in fact there's no legal requirement for any words to be said)
  • the partnership does not require to be consummated (ie for the partners to have intercourse) to make it valid
  • the partnership cannot be dissolved on the grounds of adultery.
  • there are some differences concerned with private pensions.

The fact that there is no explicit mention of consummation (or adultery) in the law on civil partnerships makes it easier for Anglican clergymen who are in a committed but celibate relationship to have a civil partnership. "The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality."[1]

Up to the end of 2010, 46,622 civil partnerships had been formed,[2] including 487 at British Consulates abroad.

Religious premises and ceremonies

As with civil marriage, civil partnership ceremonies were not allowed to include religious readings, music or symbols, or take place on religious premises. However under the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) (Amendment) Regulations 2011 (implementing a provision of the Equality Act 2010) civil partnerships have been permitted on religious premises in England and Wales since 5 December 2011; this is subject to the discretion of each religious body, and the Church of England have no plans to take part in this. The Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester was the first church in the UK to be given a licence to conduct civil partnerships on its premises.[3]


Preliminary figures suggest that civil partnerships are less likely to end in dissolution than marriages are to end in divorce.[4]

Conversion to marriage

The legislation introducing same-sex marriage in England and Wales, and the equivalent legislation in Scotland, allow a couple to convert their civil partnership to a marriage, which is then deemed to have come into effect on the date of the civil partnership.

Future of civil partnerships

During the consultations on same-sex marriage, there were suggestions that if marriage was being extended to gay and lesbian couples, it would be only fair for civil partnerships to be extended to straight couples. Amendments to this effect were proposed during the debates on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill but rejected largely on the grounds that it the implications had not been thought through and to include this provision would delay the bill from coming into force. During the Bill's report stage, an amendment was agreed requiring the Government to conduct a review of civil partnerships as soon as practicable, including a full public consultation.

On 24 January 2014 the Government launched its consultation on the future of civil partnerships. Responses cold be submitted online or by post. The consultation closed on 17th April. The Government's report on the consultation found that there was no consensus for any change.[5]

In 2018 it was announced that civil partnerships would be introduced for opposite-sex couples, following a Supreme Court ruling.[6]


  1. Changing Attitude website
  4. Helen Ross, Karen Gask and Ann Berrington. "Civil Partnerships Five Years On" Population Trends nr 145 Autumn 2011, Office for National Statistics Page 15
  6. "Civil partnerships: Law to change for mixed-sex couples2, BBC News, 2 October 2018.