There was some good news at the start of this new decade: on 31 December 2019, the law finally allowed men and women to enter civil partnerships (as opposed to only same sex couples who have had that right since 2005). Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld campaigned for the change in the law since December 2014 and had to take their fight all the way to the Supreme Court to finally achieve equality for heterosexual couples.

I had noticed an increase in recent years of couples marrying after living together for many years. I could only conclude that their dislike of the institution of marriage had finally been trumped by the significant tax bill and loss of valuable pension benefits they would face, in the event of the death of their partner.

Now civil partnership can give couples security without changing the dynamic of their relationship, or requiring them to enter an ancient patriarchal institution which is unsuited to who they are and the times we live in.

There were always substantial capital gains and inheritance tax advantages to be had if you were married, as well as pension benefits. And now at last they apply to people in civil partnerships too. All the same rights and financial benefits are available to civil partners exactly as if they were married. And if the relationship does break down, a dissolution of the civil partnership works in exactly the same way as a divorce, with the same rights and responsibilities.

So what are the differences between marriage and civil partnership?

Given how highly marriage seems to be prized in our society, I was surprised to find how few differences there are, and they seem mainly to be about sex and religion.

The Formalities

When you enter a civil partnership you do not have to say a word if you don’t wish to, you just sign on the dotted line which makes the contractual arrangement much clearer.

I’m pleased to see that the civil partnership certificate is also updated for the 21st century: it includes the names of both parents of each party, not just their fathers’ names as on a marriage certificate. And civil partnerships are recorded in an electronic register whereas marriages are registered on paper, in a hard copy register.


I’ve always thought family law is a lot about sex but there’s no requirement for it in a civil partnership: unlike a marriage, it does not have to be consummated. And a civil partnership cannot be ended on the basis of adultery – although I very much hope that marriages won’t be for much longer either, no fault divorce is another piece of legislation long overdue.

And you can’t annul a civil partnership, like you can a marriage, if at the time of entering into it one party was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form.


This seems to me to be the most significant difference. Since 2 December 2019, couples who had a civil partnership from elsewhere in the world are also recognised here. But the reverse is not necessarily true: if you have a civil partnership here it will not be recognised world-wide in the same way as marriage is.


Common Law Marriage

It may be worth repeating here that there is no such thing as a common law wife or marriage in this country. No matter how long you’ve lived together, if you are not married or in a civil partnership you are a single person who has no legal or financial protection in the event of the death of your partner, or the end of your relationship.