Traditional Marriage vs. Civil Partnership – What’s the Difference?

Today, history was made when a heterosexual couple, who were previously denied the right to enter into a civil partnership, won a claim at the Supreme Court. They claimed that, due to being straight, they were being discriminated against by being unable to enter into a civil partnership. Rebecca Steinfeld, 37, and Charles Keidan, 41, who bought the claim, say that while they want a legal union, they have “deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage”. It is, they say, “historically heteronormative and patriarchal”.

Civil partnerships became available to same-sex couples in 2004, granting similar rights as to those of married couples. Civil partnership is currently available to same-sex couples in the UK, and as of 2014, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 legalised full same-sex marriage in England and Wales starting from March 2014. However, today’s landmark case could put pressure on the government to change the law so that partnerships are also open to different-sex couples. This would even the field so to speak, offering exactly the same choices to everyone no matter their preferences.

So, what is the difference between marriage and a civil partnership?

Civil Partnerships

Technically, there are very few differences between civil partnerships and marriage. However, there are some differences which may seem quite shocking to some:

  • Civil partners cannot call themselves “married” for legal purposes.
  • Civil partnership certificates include the names of both parents of the parties. Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties.
  • Adultery will not dissolve a civil partnership. In a marriage, if one party is unfaithful this is grounds for divorce. This isn’t the case in civil partnership dissolution.
  • Civil partnerships are currently only available for same-sex couples and are different to civil marriages.

Civil Marriage

A civil marriage means you end up with the same rights as a religious marriage in the eyes of the law, but the ceremony is different. Most people don’t really think of there being a difference between the two types of marriage. To most, a wedding is a wedding – and you end up married either way.

A registrar conducts the civil marriage ceremony. This is rather than a vicar or priest in a church. The ceremony cannot have any religious content, including any songs or readings.

Religious Marriage

In the civil marriage, you are married in the eyes of the law. In a religious marriage you are also married in the eyes of God (or whichever deity is appropriate). This is the main difference between a civil marriage and a religious marriage. There are several rules or conventions (such as either the bride or groom being a member of the faith in question) that must be adhered to if you’re marrying in a church or other place of worship. Whereas civil ceremonies have fewer restrictions. Ultimately, churches etc are, first and foremost, places of worship. The marriage ceremony is seen as a sacred, holy ceremony. Therefore, the faith’s customs must apply. This can feel restrictive to some and be comforting to others.


At the end of the day, your union is specific and special to you as a couple. You must together decide which is best for you. However, as a result of today, you may soon have other options to consider!