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Definitions on the web:
A civil union is a legally recognized union similar to marriage. Civil unions can often come under other terms such as registered partnership and civil partnership.
Many countries with civil unions recognize foreign unions if those are essentially equivalent to their own; for example, the United Kingdom lists equivalent unions in Civil Partnership Act Schedule 20.
Supporters of civil unions contend that civil unions grant same-sex couples equal rights to married couples. Some commentators, such as Ian Ayres, are critical of civil unions because they say they represent a separate status unequal to marriage. According to an American history scholar Nancy Cott "there really is no comparison, because there is nothing that is like marriage except marriage. "Others, such as Robert Knight, are critical because they say civil unions endow the same rights and privileges of heterosexual marriages — alleging that they allow same-sex marriage by using a different name.
Civil partnerships in the United Kingdom, granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004, give same-sex couples rights and responsibilities comparable to civil marriage. Civil partners are entitled to the same property rights as married opposite-sex couples, the same exemption as married couples on inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits, and also the ability to get parental responsibility for a partner's children, as well as responsibility for reasonable maintenance of one's partner and their children, tenancy rights, full life insurance recognition, next-of-kin rights in hospitals, and others. There is a formal process for dissolving partnerships akin to divorce.
The first civil partnership formed under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 took place at 11:00 GMT 5 December 2005 between Matthew Roche and Christopher Cramp at St Barnabas Hospice, Worthing, West Sussex. The statutory 15-day waiting period was waived as Roche was suffering from a terminal illness: he died the following day. The first partnership registered after the normal waiting period was held in Belfast on 19 December 2005.
The first partnerships formed in Great Britain, after the waiting period, should have occurred on 21 December, but due to a misinterpretation of the rules, the first in Scotland were held on 20 December. The first civil partnerships in England and Wales were formed on 21 December 2005, with Westminster, Hampshire, Hammersmith and Fulham and Brighton & Hove conducting the largest numbers.