Civil partnerships: we need the right to reject marriage

It’s mid-morning on a Friday, and we’re in a registry office in Douglas – the capital of the Isle of Man. Two witnesses are present for the civil partnership ceremony of an opposite-sex couple, Adeline Cosson and Kieran Hodgson. They are the first heterosexual couple to get a civil partnership in the British Isles after the Isle of Man introduced them this summer. The couple wish to get married later but, as a young couple, they feel a civil partnership is their best option at this moment in time.

Marriage is a big word. It’s often tied to religion and it is a huge step to take for two people. Marriage is the act of committing your entire life to someone and essentially agreeing that what is yours is also theirs. With sometimes pompous ceremony steeped in tradition and the exchanging of rings and vows, marriage certainly isn’t for everybody – or, at least, not for a relationship in its early stages.

However, many couples want to have their relationship legally recognised and to have some of the financial and legal benefits that come with that. For heterosexual couples to be legally recognised, they ultimately need to get married: opposite-sex civil partnerships are currently not allowed in the UK.

Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 for same-sex couples as a separate system to marriage. At the time, it seemed to keep both sides of the fence happy (well, a little bit at least). Same-sex couples could enjoy some of the legal benefits of marriage, and conservative-minded people got to keep its traditional ideology.

Heterosexual couples had the privilege of being able to get married so civil partnerships were never meant for them. Now that same-sex couples can also get married, surely, it’s the right time to allow opposite-sex couples to get civil partnerships too?

The Isle of Man is quickly becoming more progressive than the UK with marriage and civil partnership laws that apply to everyone regardless of sexual orientation. Earlier this year, the high court in London rejected a case asking for opposite-sex civil partnerships.

However, the case will be appealed before the high court. And, if they lose, the couple in question — Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan — have said they’re prepared to take the case to the supreme court and even the European Court of Human Rights.

Civil partnerships allow couples the security of having their relationship recognised whilst reflecting who they are as a couple. Not everyone wants to get married but when it comes to children, property, and pensions, civil partnerships still afford couples some protection under law.

According to the Equal Civil Partnerships campaign, there are almost 3 million opposite-sex couples living together in the UK. Almost 4 in 10 of those couples have dependent children. Couples choosing not to get married is quickly becoming more commonplace, which is why it’s only fair that these couples should be allowed to have a civil partnership as opposed to, or before marriage.

But, the government has different plans – and they are even talking about phasing out civil partnerships all together. Which will leave same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike with no choice but to get married when it may not be what they want.

Ultimately, this comes down to whether the government wishes to be progressive and promote equality for all. It simply isn’t fair to have one policy for one sexual orientation and another for a differing orientation; this harms everyone, not just the parties directly involved.

Civil partnerships should be available regardless of sexuality. Everyone should have the freedom to choose the type of union that they want without centuries of tradition telling them what is best

When debating this issue, it’s important to consider whether there is a strong need for equalising the law on civil partnerships. It is necessary to consider the fact that in March 2014, when the first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales, civil partnerships fell by a whopping 40% compared to the same month the year before. In 2014, only 1,683 civil partnerships were registered in England and Wales, compared to 4,853 same-sex marriages.

The figures highlight that since equal marriage was introduced, the want of civil partnerships declined significantly – begging the question, do we need to equalise the law at all when very few people are still wanting a civil partnership?

The answer, of course, is yes! A change.org petition to be delivered to equalities minister Justine Greening has already attracted more than 71,000 signatures. The demand is high for the government to treat all couples equitably.

The notion of straight couples demanding equality seems, at first, quite odd. Especially considering they have been considered the norm in all societies since the beginning of mankind. But inequality is inequality; same-sex couples are allowed a means to identify that rejects the institution of marriage. Opposite-sex couples are not. Suddenly, fighting for this right doesn’t seem so strange.

Equality should exist for all in a modern and forward-thinking society. It is the right time for the government to introduce civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples. But, whether that will happen, we must wait and see.

This is an opinion piece that expresses views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of It Equals.

If you would like to write a response piece to this, please email a short introduction and pitch to editor@itequals.com

If you would like to sign the petition that supports equal rights to a civil partnership, click here.

Skylar

Skylar is a firm believer of GSM rights who believes that progressive media has the power to make change in society. Her interests include the media representation of the GSM community and providing a voice to those who rarely get given one.