Alternatives to marriage

Civil partnerships

A civil partnership is an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples. Civil partnerships were introduced in the UK to allow same-sex couples to obtain the same rights and responsibilities as with civil marriage (as they were legally unable to marry).

In UK law, only same-sex couples are eligible for a civil partnership. A heterosexual couple who live together and want to formalise their relationship without getting married cannot do so through a civil partnership.


Some couples choose to live together without being married. This does not mean that they are friends simply sharing accommodation, but they are together as a couple and having a sexual relationship.

Living together is also known as cohabitation. If a couple choose to live together there are some areas of law where they may not have the same rights as if they were married, or if they had registered their relationship as a civil partnership. This includes the right to inherit property if your partner dies.

Some couples who choose to live together draw up a legal agreement known as a cohabitation contract. This outlines the rights and obligations of each person towards each other.

What does Christianity say about cohabitation?

There are different Christian attitudes towards cohabitation:

  • Some Christians believe they do not need to get married to show their love for each other and cohabitation is therefore acceptable.
  • Some Christians, eg members of the Church of England, accept cohabitation if it will lead on to marriage. They continue to advocate marriage as the ideal.
  • Some Christians, eg Roman Catholics, do not accept cohabitation as they believe sex should only happen in marriage

What does Christianity say about same-sex marriage and civil partnerships?

There are different Christian attitudes towards civil partnerships and same-sex marriage:

  • Most Roman Catholics do not believe that homosexual feelings are a sin, but they do believe that the homosexual sex act is sinful. They do not agree with same-sex civil partnerships.
  • Many evangelical Christians believe that homosexual feelings are a sin and therefore they do not agree with same-sex civil partnerships.
  • Many members of the Church of England support same-sex civil partnership, but believe it is different to a religious marriage between a man and a woman.

What does this mean in practice?


  • When Christians marry they are making a promise in the presence of God to love each other for the rest of their lives. This love is reflected by their wedding rings which symbolise everlasting love. The bride may also wear a white wedding dress. This is a symbol of her purity and respect for God.
  • Some Christians may choose not to get married in a church and will have a civil marriage ceremony. Although the marriage is legal, some Christians believe that only a church ceremony is binding in the sight of God.


  • Some Christians will choose to cohabit as they believe their love for each other is enough to demonstrate their commitment. Many members of the Church of England believe they may only cohabit if it will lead to marriage. If they are right for each other, then living together will give them an insight into married life.
  • Many Roman Catholics will not cohabit as they believe it is sinful. This means that a couple will only live together when they are married.

Civil partnerships and same-sex marriage

  • The Church of England does not regard homosexuality as a sin. However it regards sex outside the confines of marriage as being sinful. The Church defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, although it supports civil partnerships for same-sex couples. The law prevents ministers from the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. The Church does not allow its clergy to enter into sexually active relationships outside of marriage.
  • Some Roman Catholics who believe they are homosexual will not express their feelings sexually as they believe these sex acts are sinful.
  • Some evangelical Christians also believe acting on homosexual feelings to be sinful.
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