Many couples may not know that they have options when choosing how to formalise their relationship. While most couples still choose to celebrate and solemnise their relationship by way of marriage, for others the institution of marriage is not the right choice.

An alternative to marriage

Some oppose the religious associations of marriage; others argue that the institution of marriage is old fashioned, patriarchal, or simply doesn't reflect their relationship. For those who have been unhappily married in the past, the prospect of getting re-married may not feel like an option. What about those who long for a more egalitarian formal union or a fresh title for a new relationship or those who want all the legal protection and status that marriage affords, without the label of 'spouse'. There is an alternative; a formal union which offers the legality of marriage without what some regard as unwelcome connotations. It's known as a civil partnership.

Civil partnerships

While civil partnerships have been an option for same-sex couples in Scotland since 2005, with the enactment of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, it wasn't until 1June 2021 that mixed-sex couples in Scotland could form a civil partnership.

"This is how you get hitched as a feminist" :  Steinfeld & Keidan

In 2018, English couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, won a landmark legal battle for the right to form a civil partnership as a mixed-sex couple. Steinfeld and Keidan fought the case all the way to the UK Supreme Court, which ruled that barring mixed sex couples from entering civil partnerships was discriminatory and breached the right to a family and private life.

In one interview, Steinfeld stated “[t]here are a lot of people like us who want the legal status and financial protection but don’t feel that marriage is the right fit for them. This is how you get hitched as a feminist. It’s to remind people about the equality between them and equal division of labour in the household.” Steinfeld and Keidan were a cohabiting couple for many years prior to entering their civil partnership. The couple objected to the institution of marriage so fundamentally that they chose to remain a cohabiting couple, rather than choosing getting married. Many couples like them choose not to marry and instead maintain their relationship as a cohabitees, who do not have the same rights or legal status

Civil partnerships vs marriage

There are no differences between the legal status of civil partnership and marriage; for all intents and purposes civil partnership is marriage by another name. What is noteworthy is that marriages are formed by the exchanging of verbal vows, while civil partnerships are formed by the signing of a civil partnership schedule. For some couples this may be another benefit of a civil partnership; less pressure to have a prescribed formal ceremony with the exchange of vows and rings, although this is still an option if that's what they want.

How popular are marriages and civil partnerships?

Most couples in Scotland (regardless of sex) are still choosing to formalise their relationship by way of marriage; National Registers of Scotland confirmed that 5,545 marriages were registered in Scotland in quarter two of 2021. It is noteworthy, however, that since June 2021, 46 civil partnerships were registered in the second quarter of 2021 and 22 of those involved mixed-sex couples. The figures are not yet comparable for marriage and civil partnerships for mixed-sex and same-sex couples, given that mixed-sex couples have only had the opportunity to form a civil partnership in Scotland since June 2021. The statistics on marriage and civil partnerships are also difficult to draw conclusions from given the chaos the Covid-19 pandemic played on many couples' wedding/civil partnership plans. It will, however, be interesting to see how the figures liken in coming years – will civil partnerships become the go-to formal union of the future?

The benefit of a civil partnership

Civil partnerships offer flexibility and choice to couples who wish to formalise their relationship in a manner that reflects their views. The option to form a civil partnership may encourage more couples to take the step of formalising their relationship in a manner that more closely reflects their ethical, religious and political ideologies. Regardless of your political, religious, or ideological views, it is worthwhile examining your options when it comes to formalising your relationship.


Eildh McRitchie-Conacher

Senior Solicitor