Difference Between Civil Union and Marriage

When two people commit to each other, they look for social settings in which they can live together, lifelong. These days, a variety of options are available for couples to choose from. Civil Union and Marriage are two of them.


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Civil Union vs Marriage

The difference between Civil Union and Marriage is that Civil Union is a legal arrangement that provides recognition to couples such that they are entitled to benefits like that of a married couple, except child adoption rights and the title of being married. Marriage, in contrast, is both a culturally and legally recognized institution.

Civil Union vs Marriage

Civil Union is a legally recognized union of two people who are not married. The idea of this institution emerged in the background of the demands of the LGBTQIA+ community.

It was initially intended to provide legal recognition to gay relationships so that rights and benefits extended to married couples can be extended to them. 

Marriage is an institution that legally and culturally recognizes the union of two people and establishes a kinship between them, their families, and their children.

Its history can be traced back to antiquity since it emerged as an institution that sanctioned interpersonal, especially sexual relationships between people.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonCivil UnionMarriage
DescriptionCivil Union is a legal arrangement that intends to provide recognition to couples from the LGBTQIA+ community. It can also be used by heterosexual couples.Marriage is a legally and culturally recognized union of two people, which establishes a kinship between them.
Also known asCivil Union is known by a variety of terms like domestic partnership, registered partnership, civil partnership, etc.Marriage is also called matrimony or wedlock.
Emergence and HistoryThe idea of Civil Union emerged to give legal recognition and certain benefits to couples in a non-heterosexual relationship. They were first legalized in Denmark in 1989, followed by other countries. Marriage emerged as an institution that sanctioned and acknowledged sexual and other interpersonal relationships. Its history can be traced back to antiquity.
Mode of EnteringTwo partners can enter a civil union by signing a civil partnership agreement.Marriages can take place either through a religious ceremony or in a civil setting.
RecognitionCivil Unions are recognized only in some countries like US, UK, Croatia, Italy, etc.Though definition of marriage varies across cultures and time, it is considered a universal phenomenon.
Rights and BenefitsCivil Unions are granted rights similar to married couples, except the title and child adoption.Married couples are granted certain rights like child adoption, tax breaks, access to certain loans, etc.
TerminationA Civil Union is ended with dissolution. Moreover, adultery is not a valid reason for dissolution.A Marriage ends with a divorce. Adultery is a valid reason for divorce. 

What is Civil Union?

Civil Union is an institution that legally recognizes the relationship between two people who are not married.

This institution was brought about in some countries to legally recognize the relationship between same-sex couples, to extend them certain rights and benefits that were available only to married couples.

Unlike marriage, Civil Unions are not universal. Only some countries of the world like Denmark, UK, US, etc. have such an arrangement.

The idea of Civil Union is embodied in different countries under different names like domestic partnership, registered partnership, civil partnership, reciprocal beneficiary relationship, etc.

The rights and benefits granted to couples in a civil union also differ in different countries.

Two people in a relationship can enter a Civil Union by signing a civil partnership agreement.

This enables them to access certain benefits like tax breaks, financial benefits like loans, etc., which are available to married couples, except the title of being married and child adoption rights.

A Civil Union can be terminated with dissolution; however, adultery cannot be cited as a valid reason for it.

Earlier, Civil Unions could be entered into only by couples in a non- heterosexual relationship. But with the legalization of marriage of gay couples, the distinction between the two is getting blurred.

Nowadays, heterosexual couples are also opting for civil union rather than marriage due to its cultural aspects.

What is Marriage?

Marriage is a legally and culturally backed social institution that recognizes the union of two people, and establishes a kinship, i.e. family between them.

It is typically believed to have emerged to sanction interpersonal, especially sexual unions among people.

Marriage is also called matrimony or wedlock, and takes place in a ceremony called ‘wedding’. The wedding can be a religious event, characterized by the couple taking vows or it can be a civil event, where the couple signs certain documents.

Marriage is not only a legal recognition, but it also has cultural significance. It is considered a universal institution; as its different forms are present almost everywhere.

Marriage is a cultural force that is believed to enhance social cohesion through sanctioning relationships between heterosexual couples.

As such, married couples are given a variety of social security benefits like tax breaks, child adoption, easy immigration, certain joint loans, etc.

Though a wide variety of marriages like polygamy, polyandry, monogamy, etc. are prevalent in different parts of the world; nearly all of them sanction only heterosexual relationships.

However, because of the social respect and acceptance that marriage entails, the LGBTQIA+ community demanded legalization of homosexual marriages, which has been accepted in some countries.

Main Differences Between Civil Union and Marriage

  1. Civil Union and Marriage differ based on the idea of origin. While Civil Unions emerged to legally recognize same-sex relationships, the institution of Marriage sanctioned and acknowledged the union of two people.
  2. Two people can enter can Civil Union by signing a document called ‘Civil Partnership Agreement’, while a Marriage can be conducted either in a religious or civil setting.
  3. Civil Unions are a recognized form of union only in some parts of the world, while Marriage, though defined differently, is a nearly universal institution.
  4. Civil Union and Marriage grant similar benefits to couples like tax benefits, financial benefits, visiting rights, etc.; except child adoption, which is available only to married couples.
  5. A Civil Union is terminated with ‘dissolution’, while Marriage ends with a ‘divorce’. Adultery is a valid reason for separation in the case of Marriage, but not in Civil Union.
Difference Between Civil Union and Marriage


  1. https://heinonline.org/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/vlr30&section=40
  2. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1929-01974-000
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