What is the difference between a gay marriage and civil union?


Many people wonder about the difference between gay marriage and civil unions. In this post, Pinks Families highlights some of the similarities and differences, and we answer the question “What is the difference between a gay marriage and civil union?”

Gay marriage and civil union

A civil union or civil partnership usually refers to a legal relationship which entails rights and benefits that are different, but mostly comparable to those assigned to marriage.

In some countries, a civil union is sometimes not formally recognized by the different churches in that country. Religious organizations may also be under no obligation to conduct a same-sex civil union.

Although civil partnerships may be recognized by the state (meaning country), occasionally additional laws need to be passed before the rights of those in a civil partnership are equal to those that are married.

For example, this is what happened in New Zealand before gay marriage was legalized. In 2004 a civil union act was passed in New Zealand. This was then followed by a relationships act that ensured that same-sex couples had the same rights as different-sex couples who were married. Same-sex marriage became legal in New Zealand in 2013.

In the UK the civil partnership act was passed in 2004 but an act to legalize gay marriage is yet to be passed. In the UK, the civil partnership act mostly provides the same rights to those who are married.

This includes the same property rights, social security and pension benefit rights. Same-sex civil partners in the UK are also able to access the same parental responsibilities for their partner’s child and so on.

However, civil partnership ceremonies have certain constraints placed on them by the state that those getting married can avoid. Also, even though the rights of those in a same-sex civil partnership are similar to those that are married, they are not equal to those that are married.

Is being married better?

The decision to marry is mostly a personal one. Some people marry because of love. Others marry in order to secure parental rights for their children, for financial reasons and or for ensuring legal rights.

The absence of national laws that legalize unions between same-sex couples has meant that there is less population-based research available to help us understand the benefits of marriage for same-sex couples. One exception to this is Denmark. In Denmark there are large population-based data sets involving Danish lesbian women and gay men. This data will help us work out the benefits of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage.

Personal choice or public matter?

Many argue that same-sex couples stand to benefit from being able to get married. For example, they may benefit in relation to their health, financially, and in terms of their legal rights and entitlements. This is why many LGBTI individuals and families believe that marriage is both a personal choice and a public matter of equality.

In this video John Corvino from the US shares his views on the benefits of same-sex marriage.

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