The curious case of marriage/civil partnership discrimination in Britain

DOI10.1177/1358229112468800
Publication Date01 September 2012
Date01 September 2012
AuthorJames Hand
SubjectArticles
Article
The curious case
of marriage/civil
partnership
discrimination in Britain
James Hand
Abstract
Discrimination on grounds of marital status was one of the first grounds to be protected
in British discrimination law (as part of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975). However, it
has always been a highly restricted provision and, seldom litigated, it faced abolition
during the passage of the Equality Act 2010. Although marriage/civil partnership was
retained as a protected characteristic, the Equality Act 2010 did nothing to clarify or
expand its function. This article considers developments that could mean that marriage/
civil partnership discrimination could have a much wider scope rather than, as some
would have it, being relegated to being a quaint relic of the past.
Keywords
Discrimination, Equality Act 2010, marital status, marriage/civil partnership, protected
characteristics
Introduction
Anti-discrimination law in the UK does not provide a general right to equality. Instead,
for the most part, it prohibits certain conduct with regard to particular activities and only
if related to specific protected characteristics. Over the years as new characteristics, or
grounds, were seen worthy of protection at national or EU level, various Acts or
Regulations were introduced to cover the various protected characteristics. Sex and what
was to become ‘marriage and civil partnership’, along with ‘pregnancy and maternity’
School of Law, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
Corresponding author:
James Hand, School of Law, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, PO1 2UP, UK.
Email: James.Hand@port.ac.uk
International Journalof
Discrimination and theLaw
12(3) 166–178
ªThe Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission:
sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/1358229112468800
jdi.sagepub.com

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