Civil partnership =/= marriage

It looks like I may have been too quick to judge that the civil partnerships that are currently available in the UK provide the same legal rights as marriage and that that is all that matters. From the comments I learned that this is not the case.

One difference, as I understand it, is that religious institutions are allowed to perform marriages but not allowed to perform civil unions. So a same sex marriage ceremony is legally prohibited from being performed by a member of the clergy even if he/she is willing to do it.

Another is that when couples go to another country, that country might not treat the partner as having the same rights as a spouse. For example, if someone with dual UK-US citizenship enters into a civil partnership in the UK, then when they come to the US, the partner is not eligible for permanent residency the way a spouse would be.

So clearly civil partnerships are still inferior to marriage in terms of legal status and privileges.

The second point raises the general question of how governments recognize the marriage laws of other countries. For example, according to the Koran, a man can have up to four wives and some countries legally allow this. Suppose such a person comes to the US with all his wives, does the US government give all the wives the same rights? According to this NPR story, the answer appears to be no, but some Muslim men in the US covertly marry more than one woman anyway.

Here’s how a man gets around the laws: He marries one woman under civil law, and then marries one, two or three others in religious ceremonies that are not recognized by the state. In other cases, men marry women in both America and abroad.

“Legally, they’re invisible,” says Julie Dinnerstein, a senior attorney for Sanctuary for Families. “If you are the second or third or fourth wife, that marital relationship is not going to be recognized for immigration purposes. It means if your husband is a citizen or green card holder, he can’t sponsor you. It means if your husband gets asylum, you don’t get asylum at the same time. The man is always going to be in a position of greater power.”

Apparently in some Muslim societies, being a second, third, or fourth wife confers much greater acceptance and social status on a woman than being a widow, and so women are willing to enter into it.


  1. says

    For example, if someone with dual UK-US citizenship enters into a civil partnership in the UK, then when they come to the US, the partner is not eligible for permanent residency the way a spouse would be.

    That’s true, but that’s nothing to do with British law, and it wouldn’t change if Britain introduces same-sex marriage. Rather, it’s an issue of US federal law; the problem in the US is that the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages or partnerships at all, including for immigration purposes. If you are a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, and you’re married to a foreign national of the opposite sex, you can file an I-130 petition for him or her, and he or she can apply for lawful permanent resident status (a “green card”) once the petition is approved. But this is not available to same-sex couples, because federal law doesn’t acknowledge the existence of same-sex marriages or partnerships.

    This applies even if the same-sex couple is legally married under state law; here in Massachusetts same-sex couples are allowed to marry, but they still can’t be recognized for immigration purposes by USCIS. Similarly, if they’re legally married in a foreign country, it still doesn’t make any difference to US immigration law. I’m hoping this will change in the future if DOMA is repealed or struck down, but at the moment it’s very bad.

    FWIW, in British immigration law, a civil partnership is treated exactly the same as a marriage (see Part 8 of the Immigration Rules), so same-sex partners of British citizens can apply for leave to enter or remain on the same basis as opposite-sex spouses of British citizens. Basically, the position in Britain is that civil partners have virtually all the same legal rights as spouses; but there are a few differences, such as (as you point out) the fact that churches and places of worship can’t host civil partnership ceremonies.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Interesting! This is where the interconnectedness of nations can help in liberalizing laws. If many nations start recognizing same sex marriages, then that exerts pressure on the US to do so too.

  3. says

    Perhaps. At any rate, getting rid of DOMA has to be one of the top objectives for LGBT advocates in the US; in the immigration context, it really creates a lot of suffering for multinational same-sex couples. Facing deportation and forcible separation from one’s spouse is not something any of us would want to go through; and it could be fixed so easily if DOMA were scrapped, and the INA were amended to allow same-sex spouses to file an I-130.

    (Of course, this only scratches the surface of the problems with the arbitrary, violent and discriminatory system of immigration enforcement in the US… but that’s another topic for another thread. Immigration and asylum issues are my specialty, and I could rant about them all day.)

  4. Kimpatsu says

    The second point raises the general question of how governments recognize the marriage laws of other countries.
    Here’s an example for you, Mano. (Are you Rollin Hand in disguise? Bonus points if you get it, but you’re showing your age.)
    Anyway, according to Iranian law, any woman marrying a citizen of that country automatically becomes an Iranian citizen themselves, and they can’t refuse this citizenship. Japan, however, does not permit dual nationality, so if a Japanese woman marries an Iranian man, what happens then? (In reality, Japan has a tendency to ignore the reality of dual passport holders here.)
    On the civil union/same sex marriage point, because the USA doesn’t recognise same-sex partnerships full stop, I can marry a man in the Netherlands and a woman in America, thereby committing bigamy. If I do it several times, I’m a polygamist. Or a Muslim…

  5. Kimpatsu says

    You’re right; sorry, I should have made that clear. But here’s another example. An international same-sex couple get married, one’s Canadian (where SSM is allowed), and one is Irish. They are currently suing the Irish government for refusing to grant the same rights as a heterosexual international couple would get, because they are living in Ireland. Their case led to the following:

  6. Mano Singham says

    It’s cases like these that make we wish that I were dictator of the world and could make a simple global rule that settles these things once and for all…

    I have no idea who or what Rollin Hand is but that does not mean that I am not old. There are huge swaths of western popular culture that I am not familiar with since I did not grow up here.

  7. Eli says

    Can you please help answer this .. I was born in England and my husband was born in Iran. He became a British citizen. We moved to Australia and are now both Australians, still living here. We married in Iran in 1981 and the marriage, although canonical, was registered both in Iran and in the UK with the Iranian Embassy. I have an Iranian passport and an Iranian birth certificate/ID with that marriage registered/documented.
    Seven months ago, my husband went to Iran, married his cousin, applied and obtained a prospective marriage visa for Australia, brought the cousin in and married her again under Australian law.
    I am being told this is not bigamy under Australian law!
    The Australian Marriage Act 1961 Part VI clearly states a foreign marriage is recognised in Australia if that marriage is first recognised under the local law where it took place (ie my marriage in Iran in 1981 is legally recognised in Iran). The Marriage Act also states a married person cannot marry another person under Australia law otherwise it is bigamy!
    This is clearly bigamy and the authorities are saying it is not!??
    Also, my husband is in breach of Immigration rules and should never have been granted a prospective marriage visa??? He cannot have a fiance (that he has married in Iran) when he already has a wife!?

  8. Mano Singham says

    I am sorry to hear about this. This is precisely the kind of complicated mess that occurs when countries have different marriage laws. It seems like this is for the Australian legal system to adjudicate since that is the country where everyone is now living.

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