The Civil Partnership Act came into effect at the end of 2005. The landmark legislation enables gay and lesbian couples (aged 16 years and over) to register their relationships. They then have legal status as civil partners meaning that they have rights and responsibilities in much the same way that married couples do. To all intents and purposes, civil partnership is civil marriage with almost the same legal rights.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics released in 2009 showed that 7,169 civil partnerships were formed in 2008, slightly down from 8,728 in 2007, and considerably less than the 18,000 gay relationships in the first year when many longstanding couples were quick off the mark to formalise their relationships.
There is particular relevance here for gay and lesbian parents. If you register your partnership you become responsible for the other’s children and, for example, you will have a duty to provide reasonable maintenance for your partner and any children of the family (provided you treat the children as your own).
More generally, just like marriage, civil partners inherit from each other even without wills and have the right to benefit from each other’s National Insurance Contributions plus rights to survivor pensions. They are also exempt from Inheritance Tax on anything that passes between them.
The rights of gay and lesbian couples who don’t want to register their civil partnership are much the same as heterosexual couples who don’t want to get married.
The coalition Government announced in September 2011 its plans to legislate for same-sex marriages before the next general election. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/17/gay-lesbian-marriage-in-prospect?INTCMP=SRCH