Thursday, 1 October 2015

Forced to "choose" marriage? Why can't different sex couples choose civil partnerships?

Helen Lewis, writing in the Guardian this week, explained why feminists have to keep on fighting for hard won rights. We also need to fight for new ones such as the right to legal recognition of different sex partnerships on equal terms to same sex couples.

This matters because marriage is still not treated as a union of equals.  My partner and I celebrated our 10th unwedded anniversary over 20 years ago. I had decided long before then that marriage was not for me. There were no civil partnerships back in 1994 so I viewed marriage as an incorrigibly discriminatory institution. Worse still, I came of age in an era when the law did not even accept that there could be such a crime as rape if the rapist was a woman’s husband. For me marriage was a shocking anachronism linked far too closely to the days when married women loved, obeyed and seemed to enjoy fewer legal rights than the family dog.

So, it is disappointing to learn from the preamble to the current Scottish Government consultation on civil partnerships that our ministers are “not persuaded” to extend the right to get hitched the modern way to different-sex couples. That denies us equality under the law and leaves only the option of marriage, that weird, outmoded vehicle dragging its load of misogynistic clutter off to the nearest honeymoon suite.

I know what I'm talking about because, although my partner felt just the same as me, reader, I married him. My excuse? A social worker made me do it.  We were trying to adopt children and adoption social workers, it seems, are a pretty conventional bunch. Filled with fear of being discriminated against for being a happy, stable, unmarried couple we capitulated a few weeks before the adoption panel met and summoned a few friends to witness the demise of our principles. We clung on for longer than most – but from the day an adoption agency told us that they used to have the “luxury of only dealing with married couples” we knew our options were narrowing.

I dare say adoption social workers have moved on a bit since then but the option of a civil partnership still matters because all the cultural marriage baggage has not yet been jilted at the altar. The law has changed but attitudes move more slowly. While barely anyone registers distress at the knowledge that couples, of any type, are NOT married or in a civil partnership, we reluctant hetero brides still face relentless battery by other people’s ideas of what marriage must entail. From the double-barrelled last name, foisted on me by folk who cannot quite accept that I intend to keep my birth name forever to the puzzled faces when I correct Mrs to Ms, I am never allowed to forget that marriage is riven with gendered expectations. It is the 21st century and yet, last summer, my bank changed my title from Ms to Mrs without even asking me. When I remonstrated a young sounding bloke decided to tell me it was my “proper” title.

Marriage isn’t the iniquitous misogynistic institution it once was but it isn’t far off it. If I didn’t hate bureaucracy more than I dislike being married I’d be divorced by now. So how about it Scottish Government? Put your fine words on equality into action and grant people like me the right to tie up the legal loose ends of coupledom in a form better suited to the 21st century. Make civil partnerships available to all.

To sign a petition requesting civil partnerships for all go to https://www.change.org/p/equalities-minister-nicky-morgan-govt-equality-open-civil-partnerships-to-all-2 to find out more on the Scottish Government consultation http://www.equality-network.org/sg-cp-consultation/

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