Published 19 December 2012 | Standard notes SN05882
Civil partnerships, Marriage
The Civil Partnership Act 2004 creates a union which is very similar, but not fully identical, to marriage. Civil partners have the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in many areas. However, civil partnership is a completely new legal relationship, distinct from marriage. A legally valid marriage can currently be entered into only by a male and a female, whereas a civil partnership is available only to same-sex couples.
When enacted, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 prohibited civil partnership registrations taking place on religious premises. However, a change in the law, which came into effect on 5 December 2011, now enables civil partnerships to be registered on religious premises where religious organisations permit this, and the premises have been approved for the purpose. The new law also states, for the avoidance of doubt, that religious organisations will not be obliged to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have said that they will not host civil partnership registrations. Some other faith groups, including the Quakers in Britain, Liberal Judaism and Unitarianism have supported the revised legislation.
On 15 March 2012, the Government launched a consultation on equal civil marriage. The Government asked for views on proposals to remove the ban on same-sex couples being able to have a marriage through a civil ceremony. The Government does not intend to make any changes to the way that religious marriages are solemnized, or how religious organisations define religious marriage, and it would not be legally possible under these proposals for religious organisations to solemnize religious marriages for same-sex couples. The consultation period ended on 14 June 2012. The consultation has received a mixed reaction from interested parties. The Church of England, which opposes the proposals, has raised concerns that there might be a successful legal challenge to the plan to limit same-sex marriage to non-religious forms and ceremonies. Some consider that religious organisations which want to solemnize same-sex marriage should be allowed to do so.
In July 2012, the Scottish Government announced that it intended to legislate to allow same-sex marriage.
This note deals with the position in England and Wales, unless specified otherwise.