Marriage and Civil Partnership

Under the Equality Act marriage is defined as a 'union between a man and a woman'. Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'.  Being married or in a civil partnership is NOT a protected characteristic for the further and higher education provisions and so does not extend to cover students.

In relation to employment, if the protected characteristic is marriage and civil partnership, direct discrimination only covers less favourable treatment of a worker because the worker themselves is married or a civil partner. Single people and people in relationships outside of marriage or civil partnership (whether or not they are cohabiting), are not protected from direct discrimination because of their status.  There is no protection from direct discrimination by association or perception or harassment.  However, harassment related to civil partnership could amount to harassment related to sexual orientation.

Benefits which are restricted on the basis of a worker’s marital status are lawful under the Act, provided workers in a civil partnership have access to the same benefit. Workers who are not married or in a civil partnership can be excluded from such benefits. 


An employer offers ‘death in service’ benefits to the spouses and civil partners of their staff members. A worker who lives with her partner, but is not married to him, wants to nominate him for death in service benefits. She is told she cannot do this as she is not married. Because being a cohabitee is not a protected characteristic, she would be unable to make a claim for discrimination. 


An employer gives an additional week’s honeymoon leave to a woman who is getting married. Last year, her lesbian colleague who was celebrating a civil partnership was given only one extra day’s leave to go on honeymoon. The difference in the treatment would not fall within the marital status exception.


A worker receives a telephone call informing him that his civil partner has been involved in an accident. The worker has been recorded as next of kin on his civil partner’s medical notes and is required at the hospital. The employer has a policy that only allows emergency leave to be taken where a spouse, child or parent is affected and refuses the worker’s request for leave. This would amount to discrimination because of sexual orientation. It would also be a breach of the worker’s statutory rights.

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team (email: or tel: 0117 33 18087) can provide specific advice to colleagues on this area of equality in employment.