Civil Partnerships are Anything but Equal

Recently a co-worker posted the following on his personal blog (which was syndicated on Planet Mozilla):

Civil partnerships and marriages in the UK give exactly the same legal rights and operate under the same constrictions.

Opponents of marriage equality inevitably issue statements like this to make their views seem reasonable and non-discriminatory. And far too many people believe it to be truth without examining it critically.

Let’s use the UK as an example and review some of the ways in which civil partnerships are not, in fact, equal to marriage:

1. You cannot have a religious ceremony. From the Wikipedia entry on civil Partnership in the UK:

It is prohibited for civil partnerships to include religious readings, music or symbols and for the ceremonies to take place in religious venues.

That’s right, even if your religious community allows same-sex marriage and wants to be a part of your ceremony, it cannot. You are only allowed a secular ceremony.

2. The constraints on the gender of the parties involved make both civil partnerships and marriage trans-phobic. If you change your gender in the UK and are married, you must get a divorce and then enter into a civil partnership with your now ex-spouse. And visa versa.

3. Civil partners of male peers or knights do not receive a courtesy title to which the spouse of a peer or knight would be entitled.

4. UK civil partnership law does not allow for legal same-sex marriages performed in other countries to be recognized as marriages in the UK. If you are legally married in, say, Canada, and then emigrate to the UK, your relationship status is downgraded to a civil partnership.

5. You do not get to say that you are married or that you have a spouse (for legal purposes or otherwise). This means that even if the intent of UK civil partnership law was to provide the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, there will be loopholes wherein certain rights are only granted in the case of “marriage” and/or to “spouses.” I read somewhere, though I don’t recall where, that one example of this is in the case of private pensions.

Limiting “marriage” to opposite-sex couples sends the message that same-sex relationships are inferior, not deserving of marriage, but only of an expressly different and entirely separate institution.

Please think about these things the next time you read or hear someone say that civil partnerships are just as good as marriages for us queer folk.


  1. Strafe says:

    I agree that the legal difference between civil unions and marriage is wrong. There should be no legal benefits provided by marriage in any case. Marriage should be a religious ceremony providing nothing other than documentation that you are in a relationship as per the religion it’s under.

    If there is to be some legal distinction this should be available to all types of people and under the heading of a civil union. Personally I don’t see why there should be any legal benefits granted – single people are discriminated against in this case for example.

  2. Mackenzie says:

    Regarding #2… so if divorce is against your religion (Jesus says no divorce unless infidelity), you are legally required to break your religious rules? That seems problematic.

    • Christie Koehler says:

      I am not sure how the gender restrictions on marriage and civial partnerships are enforced when one changes their gender. That’s rather the point, though: setting up two seperate systems creates all sorts of problems and legal ambiguities that have to be worked out through costly litigation.