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Understanding Gay Marriage And Civil Partnerships In Britain

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Civil PartnershipsThere has been a lot of talk in the press recently about the subject of same-sex marriage. With MPs debating an amendment to the marriage bill and a lot of different facts and figures being thrown about, it’s very easy to get confused about what is actually happening and what is the difference between same-sex marriage and civil partnerships.

Civil partnerships

This was passed as a law in 2004 granting same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities equivalent to civil marriage. The rights that civil partners are entitled to include property rights, exemption on inheritance tax, pension benefits and social security.

They are also entitled to parental responsibility for a partner’s children and tenancy rights, life insurance recognition and next of kin rights. There is also a formal process equivalent to divorce should the civil partners wish to separate.

Taking all this into account, a civil partnership works in much the same way as a marriage but the UK does not formally recognise the couple as married. One of the other differences is a strong religious element. Religious readings, symbols or music are not allowed during civil partnership ceremonies and, up until 2011, civil ceremonies were not allowed to take place in religious venues.

Same-sex marriage

Currently, same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in the UK. This is the subject undergoing debate in Parliament as people fight to have it legalised. A lesbian couple who were married in Canada fought to have their union recognised in the UK but lost their case.

Again, there are religious reasons why same-sex marriage is being opposed in the UK. The law actually dates back some centuries and the ongoing debates are more concerned with changing the current laws rather than creating new ones. While the media widely referred to civil partnerships as ‘gay marriages’, they are not officially recognised in this way.

There has been much discussion on the equality of same-sex couples due to the fact that they are prohibited from having a civil marriage of the same status as heterosexual couples.

The main argument is that marriage should be allowed between two people regardless of their gender or sexual preference. As with civil partnerships, there are some religions who are against same-sex marriage but there are also some that support the new proposals.

Quakers and some Protestant churches have voiced their support for same-sex couples to be given the right to have a civil marriage. Of course, this is counteracted by strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church amongst others.

There is a separate campaign running to allow civil partnerships for different-sex couples, something that is currently not legal.

In summary

While same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are currently two separate things, the recent debates and discussions could see same-sex marriage becoming legal and civil partnerships also being allowed for heterosexual couples. The equality issue appears to be the driving factor behind both campaigns and, should the law be changed, would be a positive move towards removing inequality for many people in the UK.