United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The United Kingdom’s recognition of same-gender civil partnerships gives gay and lesbian couples the same inheritance, financial, and next-of-kin rights as those of heterosexual married couples. Some, however, believe “partnership” is not legally or symbolically comparable to “marriage.”

Summary of Event

Rituals that solemnize same-gender relationships have been part of world history, including ancient Greece. In the late twentieth century, especially, these ceremonies became increasingly visible in Western countries along with a growing demand by lesbians and gays that they be allowed to marry legally. On November 18, 2004, the United Kingdom, by royal assent, legalized civil partnerships, providing lesbians and gays with most of the benefits of marriage. The Civil Partnership Act took effect just over one year later, on December 5, 2005. [kw]United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships (Nov. 18, 2004) [kw]Same-Gender Civil Partnerships, United Kingdom Legalizes (Nov. 18, 2004) [kw]Civil Partnerships, United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender (Nov. 18, 2004) [kw]Partnerships, United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil (Nov. 18, 2004) Same-gender civil unions[same gender civil unions];United Kingdom Civil unions;United Kingdom United Kingdom;and same-gender unions[same gender unions] Civil Partnership Act (2004) [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Nov. 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships[2780] [c]Civil rights;Nov. 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships[2780] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 18, 2004: United Kingdom Legalizes Same-Gender Civil Partnerships[2780]

The process of extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians began in June, 2003, when the Labour Party government of Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a white paper proposing civil partnerships for same-gender couples. Part of Blair’s plan to modernize Great Britain, the partnership legislation was promoted by his administration as an act of fairness. Labour leaders argued that it was only fair that gay and lesbian couples should enjoy the same social security, tax, pension, and inheritance rights as do married couples. The government estimated that up to 7 percent of the British population is gay or lesbian and it projected that one-third of this population would enter civil partnerships.

The bill to establish same-gender civil partnership was introduced in Parliament in March, 2004. A few conservatives in the unelected House of Lords objected to the bill, but it eventually passed the House of Commons. The government aided passage by dropping the word “marriage” from the legislation rather than run afoul of lawmakers who believed that the word has religious connotations. Opposition to the legislation remained fairly muted. Officials in the Church of England Anglican Church;and same-gender marriage[same gender marriage] Same-gender marriage[same gender marriage];Anglican Church on had long preached tolerance of homosexuality and the major political parties in Britain vie to have gay politicians prominent in their ranks. The few objections came mostly from religious traditionalists. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, accused the government of attempting to undermine marriage. Same-gender marriage[same gender marriage];Roman Catholic Church on

In answer to objections from religious groups, civil partnerships in the United Kingdom cannot be registered in churches. The range of places where lesbians and gays can register a civil partnership are broadly similar to those available for civil marriages, including registry offices and country hotels. Every local authority is required to provide a venue for registration. The legislation does not require local councils to offer same-gender ceremonies. Two councils, including Bromley in London, refused to allow ceremonies because council members view same-gender marriages as immoral acts that undermine family values. In some Calvinist districts on islands off Scotland, registrars declined to perform ceremonies when registering couples. In contrast, officials in Liverpool Liverpool, England expressed eagerness to attract the “pink pound” "Pink pound"[pink pound] and produced a glossy brochure featuring same-gender couples to lure business into the city.

The Civil Partnership Act was signed into law November 18, 2004, and went into effect one year later. Same-gender couples age sixteen and older gained the chance to give legal notice of their intention to form a partnership. Ceremonies were held after a waiting period that ranged from fourteen days in Northern Ireland to fifteen days in Scotland and sixteen days in England and Wales. The first same-gender partners to register in full accordance with the law were Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles in Belfast on December 19. However, the first registrants were Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp, who were given special permission to register in Brighton on December 5 because of Roche’s imminent death from lung cancer. On December 21, 687 same-gender marriages took place across England and Wales, including the well-publicized union of singer Sir Elton John and filmmaker David Furnish. The government had expected 22,000 couples to follow suit within five years, including many older couples who have so far preferred to keep their relationship private.

Civil partnership is a step toward legal equality, but marriage rights for gays and lesbians had been sought in particular because of the protection that marriage provides. Gay and lesbian partners gain next-of-kin rights (visiting a loved one in the hospital) and protection from domestic violence as well as the ability to apply for parental responsibility for a civil partner’s child and access to compensation if a partner dies in an accident. Civil partners enjoy the same tax advantages as married couples, ending inheritance-tax discrimination that forced some surviving partners to sell their homes. Gay and lesbian couples can now pass assets to each other without having to pay inheritance tax, in the same way transfers of assets between husband and wife are already exempt. A survivor will be recognized if his or her partner dies without leaving a will, giving the surviving partner the opportunity to assume an apartment lease instead of being evicted as well as the chance to inherit a home and possessions.

Differences between a civil union and a marriage chiefly involve details at the beginning and end of relationships. For civil unions, prenuptial agreements are known as preregistration agreements. The end of a civil union is known as a dissolution instead of a divorce. Adultery cannot be cited as a cause for a dissolution because a civil union is, by legal definition, a nonsexual relationship with no “need” to consummate the union.


While most British gays and lesbians consider the Civil Partnership Act long overdue, a few activists believe that the new statute does not go far enough. Many have denounced the differing treatment of heterosexual and homosexual couples before the law. While heterosexuals cannot obtain civil partnerships, homosexuals cannot obtain marriages.

The legislation, still, remains a significant step for lesbian and gay rights. The Civil Partnership Act made Britain the fifteenth country to recognize same-gender unions in Europe. European Union;and same-gender unions[same gender unions] The countries that recognize gay civil unions are Denmark (1989), Norway (1993), Sweden (1995), Luxembourg (1996), Iceland (1996), Hungary (1996), France (1999), Spain (some regions only, 2000), Germany (2001), Portugal (2001), Switzerland (some regions only, 2001), Finland (2002), Croatia (2003), Poland (2004), and Scotland (2004). The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-gender marriage in 2001, Belgium followed in 2003, and Spain followed suit in 2005. Roman Catholic pope Benedict XVI has condemned such partnerships as inauthentic and as an expression of anarchic personal freedom that threatens the future of the family.

Despite opposition from some Christian groups, the issue is far less contentious in Europe than in the United States. Europe’s experience with same-gender marriage and civil partnerships has influenced the debate in the United States on the same issues. U.S. lawmakers have highlighted declining marriage trends in Europe to argue that same-gender marriage and civil unions would lead to a weakening of the tradition of marriage. Same-gender civil unions[same gender civil unions];United Kingdom Civil unions;United Kingdom United Kingdom;and same-gender unions[same gender unions]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Eskridge, William, Jr. Equality Practice: Civil Unions and the Future of Gay Rights. New York: Routledge, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gray, Nichole, and Dominic Brazil. Blackstone’s Guide to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Merin, Yuval. Equality for Same-Sex Couples: The Legal Recognition of Gay Partnerships in Europe and the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rozenberg, Joshua. “All-embracing Partnership Act.” Telegraph.co.uk. October 6, 2005. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml = /news/2005/10/06/nlaw06.xml.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Same-Sex Marriage: A Selective Bibliography of the Legal Literature.” Law Library, Rutgers School of Law. http://law-library.rutgers.edu/SSM.html.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Snyder, R. Claire. Gay Marriage and Democracy: Equality for All. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sullivan, Andrew, ed. Same-Sex Marriage, Pro and Con: A Reader. Rev. and updated. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolfson, Evan. Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

July 27, 1967: United Kingdom Decriminalizes Homosexual Sex

1981: Gay and Lesbian Palimony Suits Emerge

1993-1996: Hawaii Opens Door to Same-Gender Marriages

August 6, 1994: Japanese American Citizens League Supports Same-Gender Marriage

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

December 20, 1999: Baker v. Vermont Leads to Recognition of Same-Gender Civil Unions

February 21, 2003: Australian Court Validates Transsexual Marriage

April, 2003: Buenos Aires Recognizes Same-Gender Civil Unions

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

April 4, 2005: United Kingdom’s Gender Recognition Act Legalizes Transsexual Marriage

June 30, 2005: Spain Legalizes Same-Gender Marriage

Categories: History