The differences between marriage and civil partnership

As soon as same sex marriage became legal in the UK, the number of civil partnerships dropped drastically. In 2014, there was a 70% drop in the number of civil partnerships formed, compared to 2013. Marriage became the new big thing. It’s not just a different word for the same effect though – marriages and civil partnerships have completely different rules, restrictions, and laws attached. There’s benefits to both, and one could suit your relationship more than the other. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage.


The legal side

In the eyes of the law, civil partnership and marriage are definitely different, even though they seem similar at a glance. Married couples can’t call themselves civil partners (at least not during legal proceedings) and civil partners can’t refer to themselves as married. This shouldn’t be an everyday issue, but something to keep in mind when filling out forms.

Marriage requires consummation in order to be considered legally binding, but civil partnerships have no such restriction.

Pension rights aren’t the same either. If one civil partner dies, the pension share that the surviving partner receives is not only lower, but also often lasts for less time than if it were the same situation with a married partner.

The traditional side

Same sex weddings are legally conducted in the same way as straight ones, with all the generations of tradition that comes with that. A major difference is that civil partnerships don’t require any vows to be made, whereas this is a necessary part of the marriage ceremony. In fact, if you’re entering a civil partnership no words need to be spoken at all, and all that’s required is a pair of signatures on the civil partnership document.

Marriages can be performed either religiously or civilly. The only specification is that the religious body itself has agreed to solemnize same sex marriages. Civil partnerships technically just involve the signing of the document. A ceremony can happen afterwards, but this won’t actually have an effect on the validity of the partnership. Therefore, this ceremony can be religious (again providing the religion has agreed to it) it just doesn’t have any bearing on the partnership going through. Marriage requires the ceremony take place, as well as the signing afterwards of official documentation. Additionally, details of a marriage are stored in a physical database, whereas civil partnerships are recorded digitally.

Around the globe

Here’s where civil partnerships have significantly fewer rights than marriage, as they’re only really recognised in the UK. Some travel restrictions apply to civil partners, but not to married couples. Additionally, countries where same-sex marriage is legal (such as Sweden, Portugal and Argentina) don’t consider a civil partnership to fall into the marriage bracket, and so their laws pertaining to gay marriage don’t apply. Therefore, civil partners from the UK but living abroad don’t have the same rights as married couples living in the same place.

It works the other way around too, as the marriage of a foreign gay couple is not viewed as legal in the UK.

Ending the relationship

Calling off a civil partnership is a little trickier than a marriage. For a start, civil partnerships are ‘dissolved’ rather than divorced, which means that they are legally classed as different things. Both require the signing of papers by both parties. However, there are less grounds for a dissolution than for a divorce. Adultery is not a reason to annul a civil partnership, but it is for marriage. Equally, a marriage can be ended if one member has a communicable venereal disease, but a civil partnership can not.