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What is the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is, in effect, a legal marriage between two people of the same sex. Although there are differences between a marriage and a civil partnership, a couple who form a civil partnership have the same legal rights as a married couple.

This is because it would clearly be prejudicial and discriminatory if individuals of different sexes could marry and have more legal rights and protection than two people of the same sex who entered a civil partnership.

However, while a gay couple may form a civil partnership, they are not legally allowed to be married. And, vice versa, straight couples may be married but are not legally allowed to form a civil partnership.

Legal advantages of marriage

The key legal advantages and protection of marriage are widespread. They include significant advantages in relation to inheritance tax such as the provision for a transferable nil-rate band.

What this means is that when you die there is a maximum amount than can be passed without paying inheritance tax. Married couples have the ability to transfer their remaining nil-rate band to the other party. In addition to this, any gifts between each other pass without having to pay inheritance tax.

Each partner is also obliged to pay maintenance to the other party after the couple have split; this affords protection to both parties should they fall on hard times after a marriage split.

Indeed, marriage is seen as such an important relationship that the UK Border Agency is forced to take it into consideration when examining immigration appeals.

All of these legal rights and benefits of marriage are now automatically conferred to a civil partnership.

What is a civil partnership?

The idea behind introducing civil partnerships was not only to recognise the bond between same sex couples but also to ensure that the same legal rights were granted to them as married couples. There is, therefore, very little difference between the legal rights given to same-sex couples and that of non same-sex couples that enter into a civil partnership or marriage.

Civil partnerships have, unsurprisingly, risen in the UK since their introduction as they provide a stable environment and offer certain rights and protection that would not be there if the partnership was not entered into. It does involve significant responsibility, just as marriage does, particularly in terms of financial provisions for the other partner and any possible children; whilst there are similar provisions in place regarding divorce should the partnership need to be brought to an end.

So, what’s the difference?

There is, essentially, very little difference legally between a marriage and a civil partnership except that the former is intended only for heterosexual couples and the latter for homosexual couples.

The difference exists principally due to protests from religious groups about recognising same-sex couples and heterosexual couples in the same way. In fact, religious institutions are not legally permitted to perform civil partnerships.

If you are considering entering into a civil partnership and want to know more about your rights and responsibilities under it you should contact a local solicitor.

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012 - 2013

On 5 February 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2012-2013 was debated in the House of Commons and was approved by 400 to 175 votes. The Bill, if turned into an Act, will allow same-sex couples to marry in the same way as opposite-sex couples can.

Same-sex couples will be permitted to marry in religious buildings, with the exception of Church of England buildings. However, religious institutions may decline to conduct same-sex marriages without fear of facing legal action for discrimination.

The Bill has now entered the Report Stage in the House of Commons.

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