In recent years the nature of marriage has been debated more passionately than ever before. The proposal to extend marriage to same-sex couples generated considerable discussion, and new issues have arisen in the wake of the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. In the light of these debates we will consider first whether marriage should be described as a status or a contract, and the extent of choice accorded to couples over both the rites of marriage and the rights that flow from marriage. This leads on to the second debate as to whether we need marriage — either as a social institution, a legal relationship or a sexual union. One alternative that has been suggested is that the legal institution of marriage should be relabelled as ‘civil partnership’, and the third debate considers this, along with the less radical option of simply making civil partnerships available to opposite-sex couples.
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