The Office of National Statistics has recently published data that shows an annual increase in the number of civil partnerships in England and Wales of 0.2%. There were 908 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2017, compared to 890 the previous year. This is the second annual increase in the number of civil partnerships since the introduction of 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
What do the statistics show?
According to the statistics released, the increase in the number of civil partnerships forming has resulted solely from an increase in civil partnerships between women. Conversely, the number of civil partnerships formed among men has actually decreased in 2017 by 0.8%. Nevertheless, men still continue to opt for civil partnerships more frequently than females with almost two thirds (66%) of all civil partnerships formed in 2017 being between men, the average age of male civil partners being 50.3 years.
Civil partnership and same sex marriage: what are the differences?
Whilst from the point of view of principle and perception there are perhaps significant differences between civil partnerships and marriage from a legal point of view they are actually relatively similar.
A lot of the differences come down to terminology, for example, the process for a divorce (in terms of a marriage) and for a dissolution (in terms of a civil partnership) are effectively the same and both types of relationships give each partner certain legal rights in respect of the other and potential claims to the other’s property.
One of the big differences in terms of marriage and civil partnership is that civil partnerships avoid any reference to sexual intercourse. Under Section 1(2) (a) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 a married couple can rely on the other party committing adultery as a ground for divorce. However, a civil partner cannot rely on adultery in order to dissolve the civil partnership nor can they rely upon the fact that the other party was suffering from any venereal disease in a communicable form to annul that partnership. This is because the law still recognises sexual intercourse as an act that occurs between two people of the opposite sex.
Future of the civil partnership:
The government will be looking closely at the statistics released from ONS when deciding whether to abolish civil partnerships, phase them out, or extend the right to register one to opposite sex couples following the case of R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keiden) v Secretary of State. The focus of the Court will be on trying to understand people’s reasons for opting for civil partnership over marriage, particularly with marriage now being a viable option for back opposite and same-sex couples.