Learning the difference between a civil partnership and marriage

Since same-sex marriages were legalised in the UK in 2014, we’ve thankfully and finally joined the ranks of a growing number of countries supporting marriage equality. For those who have already entered into a civil partnership, the Marriage (Same-sex couples) Act of 2013 offers the ability to convert this into a civil marriage but is under no obligation to do so if they would rather retain their civil partnership.

What is the difference between a civil partnership and a marriage?

Under the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, same-sex couples have been entitled to legally register their relationship. By doing so, it offers the same legal rights and responsibilities as a civil marriage across a range of matters, such as inheritance, pensions, child maintenance and life assurance and is exclusively for same-sex couples.

As with civil marriages, couples entering into a civil partnership must give at least 28 days notice at their local register office. The partnership becomes legal once both parties and their witnesses have signed the registration certificate, however, this does not need to be signed during an official ceremony. It allows the couple to enter into a partnership on a private basis, where no official vows are recited.

For many, the reasoning behind the conversion of a civil partnership is primarily due to labels rather than legal implications and the desire to be included and accepted within a society. However, in countries where same sex marriage is legal, civil partnership is not a recognised custom and therefore couples living abroad are not entitled to the same rights as if they were married.

The steps to converting a civil partnership to a marriage in the UK

The process of converting a civil partnership into a marriage in the UK is a relatively simple one. You may either do this at a register office, with or without a ceremony or at a religious or licensed venue where same-sex marriage has been approved.

You will need to pay for a marriage certificate, the date on which will read the when your civil partnership was formed.
Make an appointment at your local register office with the superintendent registrar. You will then sign the ‘conversion to marriage’ declaration and can follow this with a ceremony in which you may recite vows.

Your friends and family can attend the ceremony but witnesses are not required

Religious views

With over a third of British couples still opting for a religious aspect of their day, the option sadly isn’t always there for same-sex couples as some religions are explicitly banned from performing same sex marriage. The governing body of a religious organisation can opt in and consent to same-sex marriages but must continue to act in accordance with their doctrines and beliefs.

In these circumstances, a religious marriage of a same-sex couple will only be possible if an individual minister is willing to conduct the marriage and the premises has been registered for marriages of same sex couples.