The House of Commons has overwhelmingly backed a plan to fast-track the introduction of civil partnerships for straight couples.

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 as a segregated form of union for same-sex couples, but campaigners called for them to be offered as a choice for all couples following the introduction of equal marriage in England, Wales and Scotland.

Theresa May announces that straight couples will now get the right to form civil partnerships.

Speaking at the Conservative party conference, May said that making civil partnerships open to all would “protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married”. Scottish ministers are reportedly considered introducing similar legislation.

But what is the difference between a civil partnership and marriage?

During a civil partnership ceremony it is not compulsory to exchange vows as a conventional wedding might – however, these more traditional options can be added if the couple would like.

A civil partnership becomes valid by simply signing the partnership document presented to both parties. Both marriage and civil ceremonies offer the same rights. One of the most significant benefits is that those in civil partnerships have the same inheritance rights as a married couple, allowing one partner to pass on their property to the other, rather than facing a big tax bill.

So why would straight couples want to form a civil partnership and not get married?

Some heterosexual couples prefer to avoid a religious ceremony, through a civil marriage instead. But despite these options some say they dislike the institution of marriage and would prefer to unite legally in a different manner, which a civil partnership will permit. Some cohabiting couples might also want to form a civil partnership, to secure their legal rights, before moving on to the potentially more costly and time consuming step of planning a conventional wedding.

What about cohabiting couples?

Cohabiting couples only, will not be affected by the change to civil partnership law and will continue to lack inheritance and other rights in respect of each other if they do not bind their relationship legally. Some 3.3 million couples in the UK live together but are not married, nearly half of them with children. Despite fully sharing their financial responsibilities, the families lack the full legal rights offered by marriage or civil partnerships.

Teresa May states: “This change in the law helps protect the interests of opposite-sex couples who want to commit, want to formalise their relationship but don’t necessarily want to get married.

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