It is quite common for people to wonder: "Why all this kerfuffle over equal marriage, aren't civil partnerships the same as marriage?" From anti-equality politicians to well-meaning people, there remains a great deal of confusion over what differences there might be between the two.
So I thought I'd just note down some of the major differences:
The most obvious difference in law is, of course, gender. A marriage is a partnership between a man and a woman. A civil partnership is one between two people of the same gender. If only gender was so neat and tidy! Gender, in a legal sense to avoid any semantic arguments, is NOT set in stone. People can, and do, change their gender.
So if you have a married couple, and the "man" in that couple transitions into becoming a female, that couple would face a difficult choice as to whether to dissolve their marriage or not to get a GRC. They will lose accrued pension rights and other financial benefits if they decide that a GRC is necessary and need to get a civil partnership if they wish to again be legally recognised as a couple... and the benefits will need to start to be gained FROM SCRATCH again.
This is my number one reason for campaigning for marriage (and civil partnership) equality. Transgendered people, and their partners, are unfairly discriminated against by the "separate but equal" way we are currently doing things in this country. Making marriage laws gender neutral would be a massive step in the right direction. A more thorough look at this subject can be found here.
This, as if it needed saying, is a little complicated. Thankfully someone has made a video explaining this the problem in Lego. Everything always seems clearer in Lego.
This is a serious issue and currently couples affected are having to fight this discrimination in the courts using the Equality Act 2010 to help them. Here is one of the more recent judgements. Marriage equality would, hopefully, ensure this little loophole is fixed and ensure pension rights are respected by all companies.
This issue is also touched upon in the video above.
Think of it this way: of course same-sex marriages won't be recognised in many (dare I say backward?) countries. But civil partnerships fail the criteria for an international standard (many countries with equal marriage won't recognise civil partnerships!), whereas marriage equality would make things far clearer for travellers and emigrants to countries with equal marriage. And for those countries where they do have civil unions, those married couples will be more likely to have their relationship recognised on some level.
As ever more countries consider equal marriage (at the moment we have developments awaited in France, Paraguay, Columbia, Mexico, USA, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Finland....) this problem will only become worse.
Marriage equality, true marriage equality, would allow for religious same-sex marriages to be carried out by supportive religions. Right now we have the newly created religious civil partnerships but, typically, the registration charges for this are far higher than for marriage! And a Unitarian church had a great many problems getting a civil partnership licence due to health and safety concerns, despite being allowed to hold marriages!
The Quakers have this to say:
“Quakers have been discussing sexuality for fifty years. We see God in everyone and believe all committed loving relationships are of equal worth and should be celebrated in the same way. That is why, since 2009, we’ve been asking for the law to allow our same-sex Quaker couples to have a spiritual celebration within their worshipping community; not just a civil partnership which is a legal contract.”
Why should religions have to pay more to "marry" same-sex couples than opposite-sex ones? Why should they be denied religious freedom? They shouldn't, and wouldn't, if marriage was gender neutral.
Separate But Equal
The other day one of my work colleagues was abused on the train home because he was gay. Being openly gay/bisexual still has its drawbacks in life. Being forced on most official forms to declare whether you have a marriage OR a civil partnership outs someone's sexuality and I find that most uncomfortable even if I, speaking only for myself here, don't mind someone knowing my sexuality.
And why should I be covered by a different law to the one that covers the relationships of my family and friends? I'm not looking for a pretend marriage, or a gay marriage, or an "I can't believe it's not marriage" marriage. I want simply a marriage, to the person I love, covered in the same way the marriages of others I care for are covered. I pay my taxes and abide by the law of the land so why does the Government get to decide which consenting adults can enter a marriage?
For those who like to say they are the same, the courts disagree with you. As announced in this court ruling.
To the extent that by reason of that distinction it discriminates against same-sex partners, such discrimination has a legitimate aim, is reasonable and proportionate, and falls within the margin of appreciation accorded to Convention States.The Legal Nitty-Gritty
The laws covering civil partnerships have no concepts of consummation or adultery. This makes dissolving a civil partnerships at times easier and at times more difficult.
There is no requirement to take any vows. Can you imagine a marriage without vows? No. Because they are actually a legal requitement!
Marriage case law doesn't necessarily cover civil partnerships.
So yes, there are a few differences, some fairly important to the well-being of same-sex couples. Marriage equality would resolve these issues in a clear and sensible way.
***EDIT 10/02/2013. I wish to make it clear to those who may be using this article to defend the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill that currently, as of today's date, it does not resolve the issues of pension inequality, consummation, adultery and leaves several outstanding issues with regards to trans rights. It also maintains the separation of married same-sex couples in law from married opposite-sex couples.
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