Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 241–259 | Cite as

Sex and the civil partnership act: the future of (non) conjugality?

  • Nicola Barker


This article considers the transgressive and transformative possibilities in the sexual silences of the U.K.’s Civil Partnership Act 2004. The absence of a consummation requirement and adultery as a specific ground of dissolution do open up some possibilities but are not unproblematic. These issues are explored in the context of the England and Wales Law Commission’s apparent ‘return’ to a conjugal model in its forthcoming consultation on cohabitation. It is concluded that though the Act may open up possibilities for expanding the legal recognition of relationships beyond those that are sexual, this raises concerns about the further privatisation of care as well as increased state intervention in relationships. Instead, I argue that the purpose and function of relationship recognition should be deconstructed and separated from ideology and romantic mythology about what families and relationships are and should be. If it does wed itself so closely to the conjugal marriage model in the consultation document, the Law Commission will miss a valuable opportunity to ask important questions about the purpose and function of relationship recognition.


Civil Partnership Act cohabitation conjugality marriage same-sex relationships 


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I would like to thank the following people for valuable advice and suggestions on this article: Anne Bottomley, Davina Cooper, Ruth Fletcher, Emily Grabham, Rosie Harding, Didi Herman, Julie McCandless, Michael Thomson, Simone Wong, and the anonymous referees. I would also like to gratefully acknowledge the support of the A.H.R.C. Centre for Law, Gender and Sexuality.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawKeele UniversityKeeleUK

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