This week, a straight couple are challenging a terrible case of discrimination in the high court: they want a civil partnership, like same sex couples can have, but they’re not allowed one.
Now, at first it might seem like it’s a little bit weird that civil partnerships are only available to same sex couples, but actually under a power system which centres and favours heterosexuality, it makes perfect sense. Civil partnerships were brought in as the “lesser” option for same sex couples: marriage without polluting the Very Important Institution Of Marriage with all the gayness. Civil partnerships are pretty much exactly the same as a marriage, legally, except without the word “marriage”.
There’s a comparison here. Basically it’s the same, with a couple of pretty trivial differences: you can’t terminate a civil partnership if one partner had a STI at the time of the formation (though you can with marriage); you can’t terminate civil partnerships due to adultery (which doesn’t exist within civil partnerships); civil partnership certificates have both parents’ names on them (when, to be honest, neither certificate should have anyone’s parents’ names on them); and the register of civil partnerships is electronic. It comes down to words, at the end of the day.
Don’t get me wrong. I can see how this might be appealing to people who consider themselves too modern for marriage, but would like all the perks: the tax breaks, the sneaking around inheritance tax, and so forth. These things are, of course, a product of social engineering on the part of the state, encouraging people into little nuclear family arrangements, into a contract which makes it harder to get out of the arrangement. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty powerful piece of social engineering, and I can see why, if your life can in any way be bent into this little contract, you’d want to do it.
The thing is, it’s hardly an oppression that straight people can’t use the word that same sex couples use for the arrangement they were originally fobbed off with. Is it bad that cohabiting man-and-woman couples don’t have access to various tax things without getting married? Well, not particularly to me–I’m fully expecting not to be in a position wherein I’ll ever have anything for anyone else to inherit, and one of the biggest tax breaks of all is not cohabiting with anyone. But assuming these things do matter to you–why campaign for marriage-under-a-different-name when you could campaign for your cohabitation to be recognised? If you’ve lived together for years and got kids together, why shouldn’t this be recognised without having to get your very specific legal seal of approval? Why not ask for that?
Not marrying should have the same benefits as marrying, for those who want it. And when I use the word “marry” there, I am including civil partnerships, because they are essentially the same. Support those who choose to stay the fuck out of it, and let them benefit too.
What would be healthier for everyone would be if the institution of marriage (including civil partnership) became irrelevant from a legal standpoint: sure, keep it as something with religious significance, keep it as something with cultural significance, but is it really necessary? Every time the marriage question comes up, I find myself saying no: open up those benefits to anyone in any domestic arrangement, and stop socially engineering relationships. If you don’t want the crap that comes with the word “marriage”, then the path is clear, even if it is a harder one: fight marriage.