With this ring I thee civilly partner....

Tom and Katherine want a civil partnership. But the UK government won't let them register. Why? Because they are not of the same sex, as required by UK law. Sounds familiar?

Currently, in UK law, marriage is reserved to opposite sex partners. A largely identical form of civil partnership is available to same sex couples. The legal incidents of each are largely identical. There are very few, minor, technical differences but to all intents and purposes marriage in the UK is more or less the same as civil partnership.

How can it be appropriate to have two similar yet distinct systems for the civil recognition of these two like categories? As the U.S. Supreme Court observed in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 US 483 (1954), ‘separate but equal’ policies necessarily imply that the State does not really think that the subjects of the differentiation are alike. In setting same-sex partners apart from married couples is Parliament not really saying that gay couples are not so equal after all?

If marriage and civil partnership have the same legal consequences, it remains unclear why such a distinction is made. The only function of such different schemes is to underline that gay couples are indeed different from straight couples.

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