Marriage and civil partnership discrimination and equality at work

Here we explain how discriminating against people because they are married or in a civil partnership is unlawful.

Two men exchanging rings during a ceremony

What is the law on discriminating against someone who is married or in a civil partnership?

Under the Equality Act 2010, discriminating against someone because they are legally married or in a civil partnership is unlawful.

This is the case whether it is a same-sex marriage/civil partnership or an opposite-sex one. This applies across the UK, including in Northern Ireland where same-sex marriage became lawful on 13 January 2020.

What things count as discrimination in the law?

There are three types of unlawful discrimination due to marriage or civil partnership.

Direct discrimination occurs when someone who is married or in a civil partnership is treated worse than those who are not. An example would be if a married woman is not offered a night shift job because the employer thinks a married woman should be at home in the evening.

Indirect discrimination happens when an employer has a policy or procedure that puts people who are married or in a civil partnership at a disadvantage.

Victimisation is when someone is treated badly because they have made a complaint of marriage or civil-partnership related discrimination or has supported someone who has.

Unlike with, for example sex discrimination, there is not a provision of marriage/civil partnership harassment. However, someone who is subjected to hostile, intimidating, humiliating, degrading or offensive treatment might have grounds to claim direct discrimination if they can show they have been treated worse than others who are not married or in a civil partnership.

Alternatively, they may be able to bring a claim for sexual orientation harassment.

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