As Prince Harry announces he is tying the knot with Meghan Markle, we look at the legal protection available for those who are married or in a civil partnership.

While most people know that sex and race discrimination is unlawful, some might be surprised to discover that discrimination against those who are married or in a civil partnership is also outlawed under the Equality Act 2010.

However, the law in this area is not simple, even employment tribunals can struggle to understand it properly as a recent decision from the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) demonstrates.

The EAT overturned a tribunal’s decision to throw out a church minister’s complaint of marriage discrimination. The EAT considered that the minister’s dismissal because he was experiencing marital difficulties was linked to his marital status; the marriage difficulties were an issue for the church leaders because there was a marriage that was in difficulty. The claimant argued that a comparator who was experiencing relationship difficulties but was not married would not have been dismissed.

What does the law say?

Direct discrimination occurs in this context when an employer treats someone less favourably (for example, by dismissing or demoting them) than they would treat others because they are married or in a civil partnership.

Marriage means a formal union which is legally recognised in the UK. Single people and people in co-habiting or other relationships which are not formal marriages (or a legally recognised civil partnership between same-sex partners) are not protected. Divorcees or those whose civil partnership has been dissolved are also not protected.

Whether those who are not yet married but who are engaged to be married are protected against discrimination is not entirely clear from the legislation; case law suggests a tribunal might find, in some circumstances, that they are.

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Updates: For employers: Discrimination | Tribunals | For employees: Discrimination | Tribunals | General: News |

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