Civil partnerships for same-sex couples: rights and responsibilities of marriage

A guide to Civil Partnerships

Civil partnerships have been legally recognised since December 2005, the date on which the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into effect, giving same-sex couples who entered into them the same rights and responsibilities of marriage:

  • Tax, including inheritance tax;
  • Employment benefits;
  • Most state and occupational pension benefits;
  • Income related benefits, tax credits and child support;
  • Duty to provide reasonable maintenance for your civil partner and any children of the family;
  • Ability to apply for parental responsibility for your civil partner’s child;
  • Inheritance of a tenancy agreement;
  • Recognition under intestacy rules;
  • Access to fatal accidents compensation;
  • Protection from domestic violence; and
  • Recognition for immigration and nationality purposes

Similarly, section 37(1) of the Civil Partnership Act provides for the making of dissolution, nullity, separation and presumption of death orders, all of which are broadly similar to those governing marriage.

Forming a civil partnership

A civil partnership is formed either when a couple have completed a formal registration process or when they are treated as having formed a civil partnership by virtue of having registered an overseas relationship.

In order to register, both partners must give notice in person to the local register office, having each lived in the local area for at least 7 days.  The notice includes

  • Where the couple wish the civil partnership registration to take place.
  • A written declaration that s/he believes that there is no legal reason why the civil partnership cannot be formed
  • A written declaration that the proposed civil partners have lived for the preceding seven days in the local register office’s area or in the area of the register office to which they are giving notice.

The local register office may ask for supporting evidence when the members of the couple give the required notice. This may include evidence of either person’s name, age, nationality and details of any previous civil partnership or marriage.

Once the couple have given their notices, the register office must keep information relating to the notices on public display for 15 days.  This should be in both the area in which the registration is to take place and in the area in which both partners live.  The registration cannot proceed until the 15-day waiting period has passed for each of the notices in order to allow any person to make an objection to a civil partnership in a similar way to an objection to a marriage.


If someone has made an objection, the register office will not provide the couple with a civil partnership schedule until:-

  • it has investigated the objection and is satisfied that the objection should not prevent it from providing the couple with a civil partnership schedule; or
  • the person who made the objection has withdrawn it.

Either member of the couple may appeal to the Registrar General against a register office’s refusal to issue a civil partnership schedule.



Once the 15-day period has expired, if no valid objections have been made, the proposed civil partners are free to register a civil partnership within twelve months of the first notice being recorded. If they do not do this within this time limit, they cannot register without starting the process again.

The registration is completed when both partners have signed the civil partnership schedule or licence in front of two witnesses and the civil partnership registrar. The witnesses and registrar must also sign the civil partnership document.


Where can a civil partnership be registered?

Every local authority is required to provide a facility for the registration of a civil partnership.

It is also possible for venues such as hotels to obtain approval as eligible venues for registering a civil partnership.  Any premises approved for marriage will be deemed to be also approved for the purposes of civil partnership registrations.


Civil partnerships vs marriages

Although civil partnerships were immediately dubbed ‘gay marriage’ by the media at the time, there are many differences in the eyes of the law, as well as both gay and heterosexual campaigners. 

In a landmark case, a lesbian couple, Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, married in Canada where same sex marriages had been recognised since 1999 following a ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.  However, upon their return to the UK, the marriage was not legally recognised and upon the implementation of the Civil Partnership Act, it was instead converted into a civil partnership.

The couple took their case to court, on the grounds that the civil partnership was both practically and symbolically a lesser state of being compared to marriage.  This was rejected by the courts – the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, giving as his reason that "abiding single sex relationships are in no way inferior, nor does English Law suggest that they are by according them recognition under the name of civil partnership", and that marriage was an "age-old institution" which, he suggested, was by "longstanding definition and acceptance" a relationship between a man and a woman.

Kitzhinger and Wilkinson were unsuccessful – indeed were ordered to pay the government’s legal costs of £25,000 which left them financially unable to pursue their claim.

However since then support of ‘gay marriage’ has grown and now enjoys cross-party backing, having become official Liberal Democrat party policy and receiving the backing of Labour leader Ed Miliband and Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Similarly, on 26 October 2010, the Equal Love campaign was launched in London.  In its founder’s words:

“The Equal Love campaign seeks to overturn the twin bans on gay civil marriages and heterosexual civil partnerships. Our aim is to end sexual orientation discrimination in marriage and partnership law. In late 2010, four same-sex couples filed applications for civil marriages at register offices, and four straight couples applied for civil partnerships. All were refused. On 2 February 2011, all eight couples made a joint application to the European Court of Human Rights to strike down this inequality, with a view to securing a change in UK law.”

One of the straight couples, Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, in an interview with the BBC, explained that they rejected the institution of marriage for being closed to gay couples, yet whilst not wanting to get married, they still wanted to make a lifetime commitment to each other, and also gain greater legal and financial security than that offered by simply cohabiting (see our article on the lack of rights enjoyed by unmarried couples: Unmarried couples beware: Key differences in rights). 


LEGISLATION: Download the original Civil Partnership Act 2044

Read the revised Civil Partnership Act 2004



Tel: 0844 873 6081
E-mail:  [email protected]
Address: Springfield House
Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5BG


Disclaimer: The above article is meant to be relied upon as an informative article and in no way constitutes legal advice. Information is offered for general information purposes only, based on the current law when the information was first displayed on this website.

You should always seek advice from an appropriately qualified solicitor on any specific legal enquiry. For legal advice regarding your case, please contact Hamilton Brady for a Consultation with a Solicitor on 0844 873 608.

Tam Hussain is the Writer of the Year 2011

Londoners most sympathetic towards immigration