The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force on the 5 December 2005.
The purpose of the Act is to enable same sex couples to obtain legal recognition of their relationship by registration under Civil Partnership, given that same sex partners (unlike heterosexual co-habitants) do not have the option of marriage. Under a civil partnership, civil partners assume legal rights and responsibilities with regard to each other and to third parties including the state. Same sex couples acquire many of the legal rights and benefits currently enjoyed by married couples. The Act does not, however, purport to create same sex marriage. Civil partnership is a distinct institution with specific statutory rights and responsibilities. Nevertheless, in terms of the conditions of entering into and dissolving a civil partnership, and the legal consequences flowing from it, the Act adopts a model based closely on marriage which is closer to that of marriage than the partnership laws in other EU and Member States, whilst falling short of the same sex marriage as permitted in e.g., the Netherlands and Belgium. Only certain County Courts are designated as Civil Partnership Proceedings County Courts; these are: