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Civil partnerships and marriage

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against or treat someone unfairly because they are married or in a civil partnership.

Gay and Lesbian couples are able to register their civil partnerships which gives them many of the same rights as same sex and opposite sex married couples.

View or download the Acas guide pdf  Equality and Discrimination: understand the basics [415kb].

Key points

  • Same sex couples who register as civil partners have the same rights as married couples in respect of employment rights.
  • The Equality Act protects employees who are in a civil partnership, or marriage against discrimination.
  • The Equality Act also gives protection from discrimination because of an employee's sexual orientation.
  • Recruitment and selection policies must not discriminate on the grounds of civil partnerships, marriage or sexual orientation.

There are three main types of civil partnership and marriage discrimination.

Direct discrimination

Is when someone is treated differently and not as well as other people because they are in a civil partnership or married. For example a married member of the team is not promoted as they will need to travel and the employer feels that the job is best suited to a single person.

Direct discrimination by perception and association do not apply to Marriage and Civil Partnership.

Indirect discrimination

Can occur where a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all workers, but disadvantages people who are in a civil partnership or marriage.


Treating an employee unfairly because they have made or supported a complaint about marriage or civil partnership discrimination.

Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:

  • recruitment and selection
  • determining pay
  • training and development
  • selection for promotion
  • discipline and grievances
  • countering bullying and harassment
  • taking time off work.

Same-sex couples who register as civil partners have the same rights as married couples in a wide range of things including employment and vocational training. Whatever benefits married employees and their spouses are given, must also be given to employees who are in civil partnerships and to their civil partners. This includes survivor pensions, flexible working, statutory paternity pay, paternity and adoption leave, health insurance or time off before or after marriage/registration.

The Equality Act also gives protection from discrimination because of sexual orientation. This includes orientation towards someone of the same sex (lesbian or gay men), opposite sex (heterosexual) or both sexes (bisexual). The law means that an organisation's recruitment and selection procedures, as well as employment policies, must not discriminate because of sexual orientation.

Same sex marriage

Same sex couples can marry in civil ceremonies or religious ones where the religious organisation allows it. Civil partners who wish to convert their civil partnership into marriage will be able to do so.

Making a claim for discrimination if you're married or in a civil partnership

If an employee feels they been discriminated against, they will be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to their employer first to try to sort out the matter informally.

Claimants who wish to bring a claim to the tribunal or appeal tribunal will have to pay a fee. The first fee will be paid to issue a claim and a further fee will be payable if the claim goes to hearing. There are two levels of fee which will depend on the type of claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation, where appropriate.

Protected characteristics video

This video introduces and explains the nine protected characteristics.

Acas training - did you know?

Acas run practical training courses to equip managers, supervisors and HR professionals with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues and to create more productive workplace environments.

View the related Acas training and course dates in your area for Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010 and Employment law update.

Equal Rights Act 2010 - Training courses
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