Civil Partnerships (aka civil union, registered partnership, or domestic partnership), are a legally recognised union giving same-sex couples many of the legal rights of married couples.
In the UK, the Civil Partnership Act was passed in 2004, a similar act was passed in Australia in 2008; Ireland, Jersey and the Isle of Man all have proposed or pending acts.
There is varied opinion on the Civil Partnership Act in 2004, many organisations like the British Humanist Organisation support it on the grounds that is providing (nearly) equal rights, but a lot of religions are against it, stating that homosexuality is a sin.
Others see the act as a 'Separate but Equal' compromise, an argument resurrected from the Civil Rights Movement in 1960s America regarding racial equality. It is true that the legal status of same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership is still lower than that of married couples, which spurs people onto the belief that the Act is an entrenchment of gays as second class citizens.
On 25th July 2009, the Methodist church voted to allow their ministers to bless same-sex partnerships if they wished to. However, there was controversy later in that year when Registrar, Lillian Ladele refused to conduct a civil ceremony, because she felt it was against her Christian beliefs, was taken to court in contravention of the 2007 sexual orientation act, stating that its illegal to refuse to serve someone on account of their sexual orientation.