Civil Partnerships for mixed sex couples and why I'm cheering…



.... for  Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan

This remarkable couple have campaigned for almost 4 years to persuade the government that making civil partnerships a legally recognised union for mixed sex couples is a human rights and an equality issue. They took their case right up to the Supreme Court where, in June this year (2018,) they were finally successful. [Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for International Development, the Supreme Court found that the existing legislation, the Civil Partnership Act 2004, was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.]

Despite winning the right to register a Civil Partnership [CP] for themselves, they said they are going to wait until the legislation has been passed so that all of the  3.3 million cohabiting unmarried couples, currently living in England and Wales, will be able to choose this option if they wish to.

On Tuesday 2 October Theresa May said : "As Home Secretary, I was proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage. Now, by extending civil partnerships, we are making sure that all couples, be they same-sex or opposite-sex, are given the same choices in life."    
So far, no actual date has been set for the legislation. 

I am cheering as a human being, as a woman and as an independent celebrant.

As a human being: because I think  stereotyping gender roles can be reinforced by expectations within a marriage and are harmful and restricting to both men and women. There are more and more couples who resist them, and it is good to see change but even better when people don't have to resist/fight against stereotypes and can just be freely the person they'd like to be, freely be the couple partnering as equals.

As a woman: because I think there as been a long hard battle to have the Marriage Act reformed and let go of the idea that a woman "belongs" to her husband. The historical baggage of marriage casts a long shadow over modern relationships.  Some laws have been alarmingly recent in countering cultural expectations of the subordination of a wife to her husband: the law did not significantly deal with a husband who beat his wife until  1976 and the passing of the Domestic Violence Act and a woman could still effectively be forced to have sex against her will until 1991 when rape was redefined and the marital exemption was removed.  And because marriage "allowed" sex in order to procreate, and because of inheritance rules, marriage laws have included aspects of a couple's intimate life; for example,  adultery and non-consummation are both grounds for divorce. And although it is difficult to prove, a sexless marriage (defined as having sex less than ten times a year) is grounds for divorce cited as "constructive abandonment" 

There is no such emphasis on a couple's intimate life for CPs; in fact in speaking about the 2004 Civil Partnership Act, Baroness Scotland stated:  “No provision was made for non-consummation. We did not look at the nature of the sexual relationship.” [my emphasis.]  In framing the law for CPs, not even to acknowledge that same sex couples have sexual relations raises serious issues not least of discriminatory attitudes, but that is a discussion for a different article. 
However, for CPs for mixed sex couples I see this as a positive advantage in terms of equality within the relationship and in freedom from the vestiges of laws which gave a man rights over all of his wife's life, including rights over her body.

I'm also cheering as an independent celebrant because I'm looking forward to opportunities to conduct ceremonies between any self-defined gender identity of couples seeking a civil partnership; modern ceremonies, celebrating love and commitment in relationships based on symmetry and equality; ceremonies with no compulsion to follow traditions, because quite simply there are no hundreds-of-years-old traditions for civil partners. There are meaningful and indeed beautiful ceremony rituals which I love to use purposefully in ceremonies where they symbolically add to the couple's love and respect for each other; but this is different to traditions which date back hundreds of years and were developed to maintain and reinforce male dominance and perpetuate the subservient role of women. People who have consciously chosen a civil partnership ceremony over a wedding ceremony, precisely because they don't want to be tied to the heritage of old traditions, are much less likely to want to follow a familiar format, to impose those old traditions without fully understanding their meaning and origins. Same-sex civil partnerships have so far often also followed old (marriage)traditions and my hope is that by opening this legal form of relationship to mixed sex couples that there will be more new energy for creating fresh, equality based ways of celebrating unions through original and personalised ceremonies. One day Civil Partnership may even have developed their own special traditions but we need to start creating them now.

So I want to say thank you to Rebecca and Charles - for their bravery, their determination, their perseverance and their integrity; for opening doors not just for themselves but also to some of those 3.3 million co-habiting couples looking for legal validation. Cheers!



For anyone interested, the following table indicates some of the main differences between these three couple choices.
 


Co-habiting couples
Marriage (civil/state)
Civil Partnership
Purpose:
Two people sharing their lives and resources by living together
To provide legal duties responsibilities and protection to a couple
To give legal protections to unmarried couples
Origins
Pre-Christian arrangements, legally recognised until 1753
Religious heritage (heteronormative and patriarchal) to enshrine transfer of ownership of a woman from father to husband.To sanctify sex specifically for the procreation of children
Created under pressure to give same sex couples legal rights
Legal protections & responsibilities:



to be next of kin
no
yes
yes
transfer of assets
no
yes
yes
inheritance
no
yes
yes
Automatic parental rights for fathers
Only if name on birth certificate
yes
yes
compelled in criminal court to disclose private communications with their spouse
yes
no
no
receive a portion of deceased spouse’s pension
consultation  being undertaken
yes - but different rules for male survivors
yes -but some minor differences
Official record of relationship:

no official record

In actual books - the Registers - physically archived
Recorded and stored on electronic register
Legal requirements to complete registration of relationship:



number of witnesses signatures required
n/a
two

two

parents’ details
n/a
father only
both parents
paper proof of relationship
n/a
marriage certificate
schedule
Specific words said
n/a
must repeat after the Registrar specific form of declaratory and contractual words within a ceremony
no requirements stipulated: free to use any form of words; no  obligatory ceremony
Information made public
n/a
Full address of both parties
Addresses not publicised
Ending the union
Personal arrangement;  can apply to courts to deal with any financial issues arising
Application to courts for a divorce on one of the following grounds- adultery [The law recognises the act of adultery as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman]; unreasonable behaviour; desertion; separated for 2 years and both agree; separated for five years. Marriage can also be ended for non-consummation 
Application to courts for dissolution on the same grounds as for marriage, except adultery does not apply since it is a specific legal term relating to heterosexual sex; nor can they be ended for non-consummation