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Marriage and civil partnerships

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

Neither marriage nor civil partnership are defined in the Act, but the legislation is taken to broadly cover people who are married in a legally-recognised union or in a legally-recognised and registered civil partnership. View or download the Acas guide pdf icon Marriage and civil partnership discrimination: key points for the workplace [475kb]. You can also download our factsheet pdf icon Marriage and civil partnership discrimination: top ten myths [20kb]

Key points

  • Same-sex couples who register as civil partners or who marry have mostly the same employment rights as married opposite-sex couples. 
  • 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 marriage and civil partnership 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.


Is when an employee suffers what the law terms a 'detriment' - something that causes disadvantage, damage, harm or loss - because, for example,  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 
  • dismissal
  • redundancy
  • taking time off work.

It is important to ensure terms and conditions of employment, including contractual benefits, do not generally disadvantage or exclude people because they are married or a civil partner. Also, terms and conditions and benefits given to opposite-sex married employees and their spouses, same-sex married employees and their spouses, and civil partner employees and their partners should generally be the same. This might include pay, being allowed to work flexibly, parental leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave and any gift from the employer or extra days off when an employee marries or enters a civil partnership.

However, an employer may be able to justify different terms and conditions if there is an important factor or factors not related to marriage or civil partnership, or, for example, the employee's sex. For instance, these factors might include job experience, qualifications and where the job is based geographically.

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

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 they talk to their employer before doing this to try to sort out the matter informally.

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.

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