20 May 2013

Why straight couples want a civil partnership over marriage

As some MPs propose the same-sex marriage bill is amended to allow civil partnerships for heterosexuals, Channel 4 News hears why some would say “I don’t” to marriage – but “I do” to a civil partner.

Why straight couples want a civil partnership over marriage (G)

Kayt Armstrong and her partner are happily un-married.

They have been together for 15 years and have no plans to separate – or to get married.

But every so often, a nagging worry rears its head: “My biggest fear is that one of us will end up in hospital and fall out with the family,” she told Channel 4 News. This is especially true now that she is working in Holland on contract as an archaeologist, while he is still living in Southampton, where they both lived for years.

“If something happened when I was abroad, I wouldn’t be his next of kin. The fear is that the person you love the most, the person who knows you the best, isn’t able to be there for you, and help make decisions for you.

I don’t want to be somebody’s wife, in that kind of possessive way. Kayt Armstrong

“For me, the civil partnership thing isn’t about recognising our rights financially or anything. Literally, all I want is to be his next of kin.”

Equality for all

The Commons will tonight vote on whether Ms Anderson will eventually be able to have her way. Tory MPs, led by the former children’s minister Tim Loughton, are proposing an amendment to the same-sex marriage bill currently going through parliament, to open civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.

If both options are available for gay couples, the same should be true for straight couples, they argue. And couples should be able to enter into a legal partnership, without having to become married.

The idea first gained momentum back in 2010, when four straight couples launched a legal case against legislation banning them from having a civil partnership. Supported by the Equal Love campaign, their case was launched in tandem with four gay couples appealing against the ban on same-sex marriage.

And it is something already happening in Europe: in the Netherlands, the majority of those who have civil partnerships are heterosexual couples – the same is also true in France.

I don’t

For some straight couples, the benefit of a civil partnership would be that it allows a formal, legal tie, but without the “baggage” of a centuries-old tradition – and all the gender and cultural stereotypes that marriage entails.

“I’d much rather have had a civil partnership,” Anna Derbyshire told Channel 4 News. “Marriage will always have negative associations with religion and patriarchy.”

There’s nowhere else in Europe where civil partnerships give so precise a replication of marriage. British Humanist Association

Ms Armstrong, 32, agrees. “I don’t want to be somebody’s wife, in that kind of possessive way,” she said. “The assumption that if you get married your priorities will change. That the woman suddenly becomes obsessed with her ovaries and becoming a mother.”

However the same-sex marriage bill will go some way towards redefining marriage itself: where is the patriarchy when a marriage is between a wife and a wife?

But Ian Goggin, 24, says he and his partner, Kristin Skarsholt, would still prefer a civil partnership. They were among the couples who are appealing the civil partnership ban for heterosexual couples.

“We want a simple civil contract between ourselves, where we’re recognised as partners rather than husband and wife,” he told Channel 4 News. “I quite like the the lack of a requirement to have any ceremony. It’s a simple legal attachment.”

Civil partnership vs civil marriage
The civil partnership act of 2004, which came into play in 2005, gave same-sex couples exactly the same rights and responsibilities as those in a civil marriage.

That includes rights such as next-of-kin, tax, pensions and inheritance – all identical to civil marriages. And if the partnership is dissolved, the same applies to civil partnerships as it does to marriage in terms of the division of property, contact with children and residence.

Since the bill first came into force in December 2005, there have been 53,417 civil partnerships formed in the UK. Under the proposed same-sex marriage bill, existing civil partners will be able to convert their partnership to a marriage.

A ‘wrecking’ amendment?

However despite the case for civil partnerships for all, even those who agree are not in favour of the amendment to the equal marriage bill. Labour and the Lib Dems have also said that they will not be voting for it, despite supporting the principle.

They say that the same-sex marriage bill has fallen victim to internal wrangling within the Conservative party. And some suspect that the amendment is intended to wreck the bill, rather than extend equality.

Tom Loughton, who is leading the charge for heterosexual civil partnerships, voted against gay adoption in 2002, he abstained on scrapping Section 28 in 2003, and against gay marriage this year – actions that appear to be at odds with his claims of concern about what he called the bill’s “glaring inequality”.


Despite agreeing with the principle of equality of civil partnerships, the British Humanist Association told Channel 4 News that this bill is not the place for an amendment – and that it may become “irrelvant” once marriage is open to all. “There’s nowhere else in Europe where civil partnerships give so precise a replication of marriage,” said a spokesman.

The National Secular Society also has no official line on the matter, after members failed to reach agreement, Terry Sanderson told Channel 4 News, adding that the last minute amendment is “obviously a wrecking attempt”.

But he is clear on one thing: “I could see that churches would start kicking up terribly about this,” he said. “Civil partnerships would take a lot of the gloss off marriage – (they are) relationships that are not bound by holy writ, in the way that marriages are.”

And despite wanting a civil partnership herself, Ms Armstrong says she is “not at all happy that this issue is being used to derail marriage equality issues,” and would not vote for the amendment, so that the same-sex marriage bill can go through.

“They are separate issues,” she adds. “But it is frustrating that the only way to be a next of kin at the moment, is through marriage.”