Same Sex Marriage & Civil Partnerships

belfastpride17

This week we are celebrating Belfast Pride Festival 2017, an event running from Friday 28th July 2017 to Sunday 6th August promoting and raising awareness of LGBT rights within our communities.

Following the historic outcome of the Republic of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum in May 2015, there have been continued cries throughout Northern Ireland for equality for same-sex partners on the same level in our own jurisdiction.

England, Scotland and Wales had their first same-sex weddings in 2014 after changes in the law allowed for marriage equality.   However, currently in Northern Ireland, whilst same-sex couples can enter a Civil Partnership, they are still not legally permitted to marry.

So, what are the rights of same-sex couples who enter into a Civil Partnership??

Under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, same-sex couples essentially have the same legal rights as couples who have entered into a civil marriage.

By entering into a civil partnership, same-sex couples acquire, amongst others, the following legal rights and responsibilities:-

  • The same rights to property as married couples -for example, they may by law have rights over their partner’s property even if they are not on the title deeds
  • They are considered their partner’s legal ‘next of kin’ – for example, if their partner is sick in hospital, they would be entitled to information about their medical treatment
  • The same rights of inheritance as married couples – for example, if their partner died without making a Will, they would be treated as next of kin and are able to inherit from their partner’s Estate.
  • Entitlement to the same inheritance tax exemptions as married couples – ie they can leave their assets upon death to their partner without being hit with inheritance tax.
  • The same recognition for immigration and nationality purposes
I have separated from my civil partner – what are my rights??

If civil partners separate, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 allows for property issues, maintenance matters and pension entitlement to all be dealt with in the same way as if the couple were a married couple going through a divorce.

When issues between civil partners can’t be resolved by agreement, the Court can adjudicate on how property and pensions should be divided out or how much maintenance should be paid by one partner to the other – much the same way as if the couple were married and divorcing.

Civil Partnerships & Same- Sex Marriage- what’s the difference??

As civil partnerships offer the same legal treatment to couples as marriage, some people may wonder why there is such a push for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland. Some may ask ‘If you have the same rights as a civil partner, then what’s all the fuss about?’  However, civil partnership is a legal relationship. Opposite sex couples can choose to be married by way of a religious or civil ceremony, whereas entering into a civil partnership is exclusively a civil process.

Many people find that to separate the two in this way is unfair – that whilst same sex couples have legal rights, these are not exactly the same as those given to opposite sex couples. And equal should mean equal, right?

It is an area of ongoing legal debate within Northern Ireland and one which we at Life Law NI will continue to follow closely…

We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and happy Pride 2017!

If you would like any further information on the law surrounding civil partnerships and same sex marriage, please feel free to contact us confidentially here or leave your comments below.