UK Law Review 2021
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UK Law Review 2021

Same Sex Marriage: The Civil Partnership Bill

In recognition of Pride Month, which celebrates the LGBTQ community, this essay discusses the fight for same-sex equality and the passing of the civil partnership bill.

The passing of the civil partnership bill gave rise to an understanding of societies attitudes to civil partners. The civil partnership legislation considered the status provided to evidence a difference to that instilled from heterosexual marriage, recognising it as an institution in its own. This provided an understanding that the legislation does not give the same status of marriage, seeing issues raised to the courts. The ability to recognise same-sex couples became highlighted through this and showed the ability for same-sex marriage to be accepted as a social norm within the institution of marriage. The reformations of same-sex legislation that have to lead to the status provided by civil partnerships have considered the topics of sexual orientation and sexual identity. [1]These topics have acted in a driver in the fight for same-sex equality, with the influence of the political decision-making process and religious opposition. These drivers will be addressed in this chapter.

Building to gain recognition

The growing acceptance to same-sex couples has been seen through the changing attitudes from society and public organisations. The Resister of partnership for London demonstrated a building of social standing, the register was suggested by Darren Johnson which enabled couples the ability to register their partnerships[2]. Although it had no legal standing it allowed ceremonies to be conducted by a celebrant and with aims towards same-sex couples primarily[3], it was a large influx of opposite sex couples signing. Although no formal status was achieved through this it was said to have sparked debate into the need for legislation to reflect society’s demands.[4] This received matter was addressed by the mayor of London who at the time of closing the register in 2004 detailed 998 couples to have used the register.[5]

The demand for the register saw notice to be taken by the labour government who brought forward a private member bill in 2001 that was directed to the house of commons[6]. The Civil Registration Relationship Bill was designed with the intention of allowing single people despite their gender to register a relationship and receive a recognised status[7]. This recognition provided rights similar to that of a heterosexual marriage, housing succession, pensions, renting, death inheritances[8].

The necessary support for this initial bill was underwhelming until a new bill was re-entered as known as the Civil Partnership Bill. This bill during construction received guidance on the stonewall charities who intended to amend the failure to protect cohabiting couples despite their sexual identity[9]. This would evidently provide a structed and protected framework for them to live in and access to rights and protections.[10]

The construction of the bill raised opposition, stated to promote marriage and unjustly penalise opposite sex couples for the decision not to marry’[11]. Although the bill gained support by parliament members it was not until Jacqueline Smith created a paper with influence of the Woman and Equality Institution, formed the framework for legal recognition of same-sex couples[12].

The submission of the bill into parliament received a substantial support from stonewall whilst the religious organisation called the Institution of Christians opposed the campaign[13].The spread of social acceptance most noticeably became recognised when the commitment of the government was reaffirmed by the Queen during her speech prior to the enaction of the Civil Partnership Act[14]. This was recognised as a commitment to achieving equality for same-sex couples whilst groups supported the actions taken, others demanded more. The process was exclaimed by OutRage group to be moving to slow, being an attempt to stall the achievement of equality and only when equal marriage is provided will equality be achieved[15]. This opinion was held by the group throughout their operations, but social attitudes saw the civil partnership to be a step to achieving same sex marriage rather than an attempt to stall.[16]

The recognition of a separate institution for civil partnerships was considered to challenge the institution of marriage as it is known with the addition of same sex couples to it[17]. The idea of separate but different received support from organisations such as Stonewall whereas other social charities acted against this approach and the concept of what civil partnerships stood for. The institution of marriage was argued against the oppression resulted from the heteronormative system which seeks to merge same sex couples into the framework[18]. This saw the demand for an institution that could incorporate all relationships types in a legal setting that is separate to what is currently in effect.

The discussion within parliament demonstrated a challenge in moving through the process with statements made my members suggesting the civil partnership bill was merely an attempt to gain more same-sex votes in the next election[19]. The reading of the bill highlighted[20] the attitudes towards civil partnerships as it was addressed as a corrupt debate by the government who are designing a same sex marriage but excludes the opinions of the public by not naming it as this[21]. This action was considered as out of the norm politically to create a bill for same sex marriage, but they created the civil partnership bill which positively saw enactment in 2004. The legal recognition of the Civil Partnership generated an uprise in formal wedding being taken place which was recognised throughout the media industry. However more extreme positions were taken which categorised as widowed from reality, with equal marriage being the goal for all couples.

The involvement of cohabitation set the tone for change in the recognition and acceptance of same-sex partnerships in society. The cohabitation of opposite sex couples and the failure of the law surrounding this acted as a driver in the securement of legal recognition which evidently helped the enactment of the bill for civil partnerships[22]. The civil partnership act once enforced failed to address the issues that had faced opposite sex couples that had cohabitated and further failed in the application to both types of couples as the bill intended to do.[23]

Registration accepted whilst equal marriage denied

The question to the government’s failure in enacting legislation that enables same-sex marriage but allowed the creation of the civil partnership and the institution of its own[24]. The governments rationale behind this was noted in the house of lords debate which highlighted the conflicts of religion and sexuality[25]. The Bishop’s comments regarding the undermining of marriage as an institution which should be promoted and supported not constantly undermined which the civil partnership act is argued to be[26]. The discussion that held in parliament most prominently addressed through the consultation of civil partnership report that marriage for same sex couples is a matter of public knowledge that government has no plans to create this legislation in the near future[27]. However, opposition to the gaining a of legal status in a formalised same sex partnership would only further weaken the institution of marriage.[28]

The discussion on the weakening of marriage continued for the during of the legislative stages of enactment with comments of its intention addressed to only strengthen the significance of marriage[29]. This idea of strengthening the confines of marriage received criticism from The Church of England, their own view reflected marriage as the source of health and stability in society and therefore demands a bespoke place in the legal system[30]. The unique fundamentalism that occurs around the institution of marriage warranted the recognition for a new set of rights for individuals who are in partnership not following the principles of marriage[31].

The consistent occurrence of criticism received from religious institutions generated statement of supports for the positive intentions to strengthen rather than undermine marriage[32]. The direct commentary from the proposal highlighted the reasons for why right for same sex couples to marry was not provided by the government. Lord Alli quoted:

‘The reason for not implementing the right for marriage to same sex couples must be because the act of doing this would be too controversial. The action of doing this would by definition provide the same rights of marriage just under a different title, the intention of the government in addressing this has just to avoid criticism from the public.’[33]

The governmental fear of repercussions from the public if same-sex marriage was implemented was purely because of it being too controversial[34]. The creation of the Civil Partnership Act not being the same as marriage suggested that political worries and continuous opposition from religious institutions was a fundamental principle in the creation of the civil partnership rather than that of same-sex marriage[35]. The active clash between religion and conscientious freedoms have evidenced a problem in the rights that are provided, especially when the reform debates same sex equality[36]. The idea that religious teaching, practices and beliefs contrast the fundamental nature of the gay identity, Ashford examined the two approaches and presented an argument for both providing a space designed for the inclusion of the public[37]. Further arguments on the topic described the relationship between the two, creating an environment that is constantly searching to develop the rights of their people and bring societal rights to an equal status[38]. This position when adapted to the modern legal principles of the Civil Partnership Act creates a simpler access of the rights gained through a formalised partnership and the status that comes with it[39]. However, the exclusion of religion in the Civil Partnership Process evidences a balance of beliefs and rights through managing the involvement of external religious drivers in the creation of this format of partnerships[40].

Legislation for The Civil Partnership Act

The introduction into The Civil Partnership Act demonstrates its approach towards the intention of the legislation which is to oversee ‘civil partnership in the creation of provisions and elements connected to this’[41]. This statement in plainer words focus on the creation, managing and controlling ongoing effects related to the civil partnership status. The reason for creation the legislation can be best evidenced through the notice of explanatory debates which addressed the purpose to ‘allow access for same sex couples to recognition in a legal status for their formal relationship identity achieved through the framework of a civil partnership’. [42]

The process of registration is declared a simple process that only requires the signing of a register for the status of civil partners. This status of civil partners is ensuring through the registration principles require a set of principles to be met for successful recognition[43]. The act only services same sex individuals who are over the age of 16 with an accepted degree of relationship with each other and completed in the witness of an official registrar, to obtain a status that is the same as civil marriage[44].

The signing of the register is deemed to be the ceremony of creating a civil partnership, introductory legislation for civil partnerships went as far to exclude the registration on religious premises[45]. The reformation of equality legislation amended this matter but further restrictions to the exclusion of religious wording within the ceremony or any element deemed of a religious capacity[46]. The exclusion of the civil partnership process to include religious elements, certain religious institutions have been evidenced to allow the use of civil partnership through a religious service[47]. The religious protection of beliefs and practices evidenced the changes that have been made to co-inside the variance of rights. Moreover, this has been noticed in the freedom of religious institutions being pardoned from hosting the registration of civil partnerships in their institution if they do not wish to[48].

The framework formed through The Civil Partnership Act established extensive legal parameters for a variety of issues such as: dissolution of partnerships, wills, trusts, accepted degrees, social standing and security etc[49]. The extent to the coverage received through this legislation can be seen to address the concerns of more than a simple registration process, sharing traits of a marriage in the subjects covered[50]. However, the once the formal process has been competed the participants only achieve a civil partnership status and title of registration for their partnership. The limited matters that are not covered through civil partnership legislation are minimal in contrast to that of the marriage legislation set in place for opposite sex couples[51]. The introduction of the Civil Partnership Act suggests that could just be ‘a next step in the process to achieve a status of same-sex marriage which is recognised’ to which would evidently provide an equal status to both same-sex and opposite sex couples. [52]


The Civil Partnership Act advanced to a stage with the benefit from the presence of cohabitation which developed the gain to the status it offers as a partnership. The development of the legislation extended to a stage limited to not initially allowing same-sex marriage by the government[53]. However, they allowed a create of a separate legal institution formed from the challenges of opposition and worries that offering this would undermine the institution of marriage. This separate institution made couples feel an element of marriage being given to them but provided with a status lower than that of the opposite sex partners. This development was set to be a step in the right direction by the failure in the legislation which highlighted the challenge that same-sex couples have faced from being denied from entering into marriage[54]. Moreover, this legislation is attempting to bring marriage for same-sex couples into the confines of the social norm for what is considered acceptable in marriage. The elements making up the accepted norm of marriage actively become influenced through the turbulent relationship between religion and same sex rights. The identified needs of both groups have presented an issue for the achievement of equality for same sex coupes but developments such as this evidence efforts made to accommodate all involved[55].

[1] Brian Dempsey, ‘Much Sound and Fury about Marriage Reform’ [2013] 81(2) Law Gazette 34–36

[2] Green Party, ‘LGBT Partnership Success’ (The Green Party, 07 February 2005) <> accessed 1 February 2021

[3] Patrisha Harmon, ‘Twelve months after the first gay “marriage” — undertaken through the new London Partnerships Register’ (BBC NEWS, 5 September 2002) accessed 7 February 2021

[4] H Fenwick, ‘Rejecting asymmetry of access to formal relationship statuses for same and different-sex couples ‘ [2017] 6(11) Law Review 544–563

[5] Paula Holding, ‘Planning Register Success’ (London Assembly, 19 March 2004) accessed 1 February 2021

[6] The Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill and the Civil Partnerships Bill HC Bill (2001–02) [36]

[7] Relationships (Civil Registration) HC Bill (2001–02

[8] Peter Tatchell, ‘Civil partnerships are divorced from reality’ [2005] 1(06) The Guardian 1

[9] Paul Twocock, ‘Dissolution and divorce’ (Stonewall, 07 AUGUST 2015) accessed 7 February 2021

[10] Paul Twocock, ‘Stonewall statement on civil partnerships’ (Stonewall, 02 OCTOBER 2018) accessed 7 February 2021

[11] Sarah Williams, ‘THE CIVIL PARTNERSHIP (OPPOSITE-SEX COUPLES) REGULATIONS ‘ (Wedlake Bell, 24 December 2019) accessed 7 February 2021

[12] Great Britain Women & Equality Unit, Civil Partnership: a Framework for the Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Couples (3rd edn, Women & Equality Unit 2003) 22–25

[13] Deb 10 July 2003, vol 651

[14] Queen Speech November 2003

[15] Ian Lucas, Outrage!: An Oral History (1st edn, Continuum 1998) 86–91

[16] Carolyn Naughton, ‘Equal civil marriage for all genders’ [2013] 2(4) Family Law Lexis Nexis Review 5

[17] UK Gov, ‘Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act: A factsheet’ (Government Equalities Office, 19 April 2014) accessed 7 February 2021

[18] Robert Leckey, ‘Must equal mean identical? Same-sex couples and marriage’ [2014] 10(1) Cambridge University Press 3–5

[19] Jauqie Smith, ‘Responses to Civil Partnership: A framework for the legal recognition’ (Women and Equality Unit, 17 November 2003) accessed 7 February 2021

[20] Deb 10 July 2003, vol 651

[21] Law Commission, ‘Issues facing progression of parliament’ (Law Commission Reforming the law, 17 December 2015) accessed 7 February 2021

[22] A Hayward, ‘Same-sex registered partnerships — a right to be recognised’ [2016] 75(01) Cambridge law journal 27–30

[23] Lorna Bourke, ‘Couples suffer as calls for legal reform ignored’ (Funds Insider, 03 October 2011) accessed 7 February 2021

[24] Jacqui Smith, ‘A framework for the legal recognition of same-sex couples’ (Government equalities office, 11 November 2003

[25] William Fittall, ‘Government consultation on same sex marriage’ (Church of England, 15 June 2012) accessed 7 February 2021

[26] Deb 10 July 2003, vol 630

[27] Great Britain Women & Equality Unit, Civil Partnership: a Framework for the Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Couples (3rd edn, Women & Equality Unit 2003) 22–25

Deb 10 July 2003, vol 651

[28] Maggie Gallagher, ‘How Will Gay Marriage Weaken Marriage as a Social Institution:’ [2004] 7(1) Law Journal 7–11

[29] Hannah Ospey, ‘SUPPORTING FAMILIES, STRENGTHENING MARRIAGE ‘ (The Center for social justice, 2018) accessed 7 February 2021

[30] RM Morris, ‘Reflections on Church Establishment in England with impacts on same sex marriage’ (The Constitution Unit, 14 March 2008) accessed 7 February 2021

[31] Carol Smart, ‘’It’s Made a Huge Difference’: Recognition, Rights and the Personal Significance of Civil Partnership’ (Sociological Research Online, 31 Jan 2007) accessed 8 February 2021

[32] Rosie Harding, ‘Recognizing (and Resisting) Regulation: Attitudes to the Introduction of Civil Partnership’ [2008] 11(6) Sage Journals 740–760

[33] House of Lords Deb April 2004 vol 660 cc387–433

[34] UK Parliament , ‘Same Sex Discussion’ (Daily Hansard — Debate, 5 February 2013) accessed 7 February 2021

[35] Lisa Glennon, ‘Strategizing for the Future through the Civil Partnership Act’ [2006] 33(2) Journal of Law and Society 244–276

[36] Dag Endsjo, ‘The other way around? How freedom of religion may protect LGBT rights’ [2020] 24(10) The International Journal of Human Rights 1681–1700

[37] Chris Ashford, ‘Bareback sex, queer legal theory, and evolving socio-legal contexts’ [2015] 195

[38] Stephen Cretney, Same-Sex Relationships From ‘Odious Crime’ to ‘Gay Marriage’ (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2006) 117

[39] Jane Croft, ‘UK law change opens door for mixed sex civil partnerships’ (Financial Times, 31 December 2019) accessed 7 February 2021

[40] Ryan Connelly, ‘Civil partnerships on religious premises: what do you think?’ (Equality Diversity Inclusion, 14 April 2011) accessed 8 February 2021

[41] UK Gov, ‘2004 CHAPTER 33’ (Government Publications, 18 November 2004) accessed 8 February 2021

[42] house of Lords Deb April 2004 vol 660 cc387–433

[43] Women and Equality Unit, ‘Civil Partnership: a Framework for the Legal Recognition of Same-sex Couples’ (London, Department of Trade and Industry June 2003) 13

[44] Nicola Haines, ‘Marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships’ (Office for National Statistics, 14 March 2017) accessed 8 February 2021

[45] Mark Harper, Civil Partnership — The New Law (3rd edn, Family Law 2005) 182–194

[46] UK Gov, ‘Civil partnerships on religious premises: A consultation’ (Government Equalities Office, 19 November 2011) accessed 8 February 2021

[47] Mark Hill, ‘Civil Partners and Religious Organisation’ (Centre for Law and Religion, 16 June 2008) accessed 8 February 2021

[48] Peter Edge, ‘Review of equality and human rights law relating to religion or belief’ (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 09 July 2015) accessed 8 February 2021

[49] Rebecca Probert and Maebh Harding, Cretney and Probert’s Family Law (10th edn, Sweet & Maxwell 2018) 83–88

[50] UK Gov, ‘Civil Registration: Vital Change’ (Government Publications, 26 January 2002) accessed 8 February 2021

[51] David Bedingfield, ‘Civil Partnerships and Marriage: Labels or a state of mind?’ [2017] 16(5) Family Law Lexis Nexis Review 6

[52] Karen Johnson, ‘Equal Status’ (Equal rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couple, 20 November 2019) accessed 8 February 2021

[53] Etherton, Terence. 2008, Regulating sexuality: legal consciousness in lesbian and gay lives.

[54] Rosemary Auchmuty, ‘Same-sex Marriage Revived: Feminist Critique and Legal Strategy’ (2004) 14 Feminism & Psychology 101, 104.

[55] Rosie Harding, ‘Recognizing (and Resisting) Regulation: Attitudes to the Introduction of Civil Partnership’ (2008) 11 Sexualities 740, 750



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