What is a Civil Union?
Legal Recognition of a Relationship
First and foremost, a Civil Union is legal recognition of your relationship under New Zealand law. Partners in a Civil Union are recognised in law as being in the sort of relationship that entitles them to special rights and obligations in relation to each other. They are recognised as being next of kin to each other and as such may choose, for example, to share a surname or to be buried in the same plot of ground. They are treated as being in a relationship for the purposes of various financial benefits and tax. They enjoy certain access rights to each other's property (most of which is regarded as joint).
A Solemn Commitment
A Civil Union is also a solemn, legally binding and public commitment to each other by a couple. It is a solemnisation of a relationship, usually in the presence of family and friends, and always in the presence of two witnesses and a registered Civil Union celebrant (which is where I come in). As such, it is not a matter to be entered into lightly. It is a way of enriching and sharing the couple's relationship and deepening the trust at its heart within the security provided by such a commitment.
What's the Difference between Civil Union and Marriage?
Under New Zealand Law, there is only one difference between Civil Union and Marriage. Civil Union is the more inclusive relationship. Marriage, in New Zealand Law, only applies to a relationship between a man and a woman. Civil Union includes those in same-sex relationships. Many religious organisations in New Zealand also exclude other people (e.g., those who are divorced) from Marriage. Such exclusions do not apply to Civil Unions.
Other than this legal difference, the major social difference between Civil Union and Marriage is that Marriage carries with it a whole host of social and cultural practices and expectations. Civil Unions are much more flexible in this respect, allowing a greater diversity in their celebration, while still being a legally recognised solemnisation of the relationship.
What are the Legal Requirements for a Civil Union?
Firstly, in order for me to solemnise your relationship as a Civil Union, you must have a valid Civil Union licence. For further information about how to obtain this, please follow the links on my page of Important or Helpful Celebration Links. My legal responsibility (in brief) is to ensure that the conditions of the licence are met, that you make a public statement of your intention to freely enter into Civil Union, that the two supplied "Copies of Particulars of Civil Union" are completed in the presence of two witnesses, and that one of these is forwarded to the Registrar of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Civil Unions within ten calendar days.